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Indigenous Medicine Blanket Ceremony Honors Traditions and Celebrates Students

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Blankets are intertwined in the stories of our lives.

Blankets can represent, life, death and survival.

Blankets can tell stories and transcend generations.

School of Medicine student, Sarah Gierok being wrapped in a blanket of knowledge

As the University of California San Diego School of Medicine wraps up the academic year, first year Native American medical students were recognized, honored and blessed as they celebrated the completion of their first year of medical school with a traditional blanket ceremony. Blanket ceremonies are a pan-Indigenous practice that celebrate individuals going through life-changing events.

In addition to faculty, staff and leaders from UC San Diego School of Medicine, tribal community leaders were on hand to recognize the achievements of the students, many of whom are part of the school’s Program in Medical Education-Transforming Indigenous Doctor Education (PRIME-TIDE). The University of California system-wide PRIME initiative is committed to training physicians to meet the needs of under-resourced communities in California. The PRIME-TIDE program is focused specifically on preparing medical students for careers focused on providing healthcare to Native populations.

Stanley Rodriguez, Ed.D, reciting a blessing at the blanket ceremony

Stanley Rodriguez, Ed.D., who is from the Santa Ysabel Band of the Iipay Nation, and a tribal councilman for the Nation spoke at the event.

“People believe in you, we all believe in you.” 

At the event Rodriguez, who is also director of Kumeyaay Community College, shared his personal medical journey with the students, friends, family, faculty and staff members who were in attendance. He reminded the students about the importance of carrying on traditions and honoring the legacy of their ancestors.

Group of seven Native American students smiling while wrapped in their blankets of knowledge

First-year medical students who received blankets include (from left) Averi Wilhelms, Sarah Gierok, Dane Winter, Rachel Maguire, Jessica Ross, Marissa Stinnett and Steven Jump.

Each of the seven Native American students who are wrapping up their first year of medical school were presented with a Blanket of Knowledge. Created by Eighth Generation, a Seattle-based art and lifestyle brand owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, each blanket was designed by a Native American artist. According to the designer of this blanket, the design is based on the ancient Northwest Coast art practice of Chilkat weaving, one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world. The intricacy of the circular and curved shapes and patterns on the blanket give the perception of movement when draped over the shoulders.  

Second-year medical student, Katie Mostoller, speaking from the podium at the blanket ceremony

While presenting the blankets, second-year PRIME-TIDE student Katie Mostoller spoke of the significance of the blankets.

“The blankets represent relationships, honor, respect, achievement. Your community is here to celebrate you.”

Mostoller explained that being a Native American medical student is particularly significant because the students’ success in an integrated world means that they are learning how to take the old practices learned from their ancestors and bringing them together into a new context to help foster health and wellbeing within the Native community.

Native American faculty member holding a gift bag she received
Native American student giving gift to community mentor
Native American faculty member holding a gift bag she received Three second year native American students smiling wearing new jackets

Native American students who had previously been presented blankets were also honored and celebrated at the event. Those students received jackets to acknowledge their continued focus and success within their medical education journey. After the presentation of jackets, each of the students spoke about their respective mentors and community partners, presenting them with gifts to acknowledge the continuing relationships and respect for those who have supported the students thus far.

Community members participating in a blessing ceremony at the blanket ceremony
Community members participating in a blessing ceremony at the blanket ceremony
Community members participating in a blessing ceremony at the blanket ceremony

The event included performances by the Soaring Eagles, a group established in 2008 which is dedicated to educating American Indian families about the tradition of Native American Powwow dance. Additionally, the Kumeyaay Bird Singers accompanied the dancers throughout the evening. The event concluded with a traditional Round Dance, which symbolizes unity and wholeness. Everyone in attendance was encouraged to join the circle and celebrate the students’ achievements and potential.

A member of the Soaring eagles waiting to dance at the blanket ceremony
The Kumeyaay Bird Singers performed traditional drumming at the blanket ceremony
Two members of the Soaring eagles dancing at the blanket ceremony
Students, faculty, staff and guests participating in a traditional round dance

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