CIRI Spotlight: Lisa Dolchok

In 1999, when Southcentral Foundation (SCF) opened the Anchorage Native Primary Care Center, a Traditional Healing Clinic was opened to offer time-honored Alaska Native healing methods alongside Western medicine. Soon after the clinic opened, CIRI shareholder Lisa Dolchok was tapped to join the clinic as its second practicing tribal doctor.

Lisa spent her early years in the Bristol Bay region, where she was born. Lisa’s mother, Anecia Lopez, is Yup’ik and her father, Dick Lopez, is Filipino. She and her nine younger brothers and sisters were raised to have close knowledge of the heritage of both their father and mother.

Lisa spent the first 8 1/2 years of her life living close to nature in a cabin with her family on the Nushagak river near Portage Creek in the Bristol Bay region. When she was 8 years old, a federal marshal found her and her nine younger brothers and sisters and ordered them to school. She and her family then moved to Clarks Point, a village on the Nushagak River, so that she and her younger siblings could receive schooling.

In 1955, Lisa left to attend high school at the Mount Edgecumbe boarding school in Sitka. Soon after arriving, she became ill with tuberculosis and spent three years in the hospital being treated.

“I left as a girl and returned as a young woman, a married woman,” said Lisa of her years spent in Southeast Alaska. In the hospital, she met her husband of 52 years, Max Dolchok, who had just recently graduated from Mount Edgecumbe and fallen ill himself. A romance blossomed while they were both being treated for tuberculosis. After she graduated, together they raised four children and now have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Lisa became involved with the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative (FWWI) in its early stages more than ten years ago. FWWI addresses all forms of violence that occur in the family by bringing people together to hold open discussions on family wellness and to promote healing. She is a volunteer FWWI committee member and she regularly travels to communities in the Anchorage area and throughout rural Alaska to share her story and break the silence about domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and child neglect.

At SCF’s Traditional Healing Clinic, Lisa focuses on healing from an Alaska Native perspective. Her patients include people coping with substance abuse, mental illness, men and women who have recently been released from prison, couples, pregnant women, people with idiopathic chronic pain and people who are dealing with grief.

Lisa approaches healing holistically by including the mental, cultural and spiritual aspects of wellness when she works with a patient. Her specialties are healing touch and traditional counseling. She also uses cleansings, blessings, prayers, storytelling and talking circles to help her patients achieve wellness.

Lisa, along with others, helped plant the Alaska Native Traditional Healing Garden at SCF. The garden is filled with medicinal plants that are native to Alaska. Lisa traveled to north of Palmer to harvest the plants and transplant them herself in the garden.

Lisa strongly believes that passing on cultural knowledge to younger generations is the keystone to Alaska Native wellness. To Lisa, culture is intertwined with healing, and every two weeks, Lisa shares traditional stories with incoming SCF staff as part of SCF’s new-hire orientation. Lisa believes that “pain is emotional and spiritual” and that “healing takes place where there is love.”

Lisa has been honored for her work in promoting healing and wellness in Alaska Native communities. She has been honored by the University of Alaska, Anchorage, as a pioneer in health and wellness and for perpetuating traditional practices. In November 2009, as a part of Alaska Native Heritage Month, she received an Alaska Native Visionary award for carrying on Alaska Native culture from Alaska Native/American Indian Heritage Month.

Lisa’s interests outside of work include spending time with her large extended family.