In a corner, looking over our shoulders, was a statue of the crucified Savior, all bloody and beaten up. Charlene looked up and said, “Look at that poor Indian. The pigs sure worked him over.” That was the closest I ever came to seeing Jesus.– Lakota Dog
Summary and Thoughts
Mary Brave Bird grew up fatherless in a one-room cabin, without running water or electricity, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rebelling against the aimless drinking, punishing missionary school, narrow strictures for women, and violence and hopeless of reservation life, she joined the new movement of tribal pride sweeping Native American communities in the sixties and seventies. Mary eventually married Leonard Crow Dog, the American Indian Movement’s chief medicine man, who revived the sacred but outlawed Ghost Dance.
Originally published in 1990, Lakota Woman was a national best seller and winner of the American Book Award. It is a unique document, unparalleled in American Indian literature, a story of death, of determination against all odds, of the cruelties perpetuated against American Indians, and of the Native American struggle for rights. Working with Richard Erdoes, one of the twentieth century’s leading writers on Native American affairs, Brave Bird recounts her difficult upbringing and the path of her fascinating life.
– — Goodreads
Mary Crow Dog has certainly lived a life worth reading, her trials and victories are significant and deeply revealing of the legacy of colonialism and suppression that still thrives in the US. Her experience in horrific residential schools, support of AIM, and journey into accepting and advocating for herself was insightful to read, even if some aspects of the book seemed a bit dated. This being said, my biggest qualm with this memoir is how plainly it is written – in a straightforward, chronological matter-of-fact way of writing. Though the stories she told were clear and cohesive, it sometimes felt like I was reading a list of events and circumstances rather than an emotionally stirring narrative. Moreover, because of this writing style, the chapter separations felt almost arbitrary rather than bookends for certain areas of her life. While I would definitely include Mary Crow Dog’s memoir into anyone’s Indigenous literature to-read list, for this reason, it would not be my first choice for such a list.
For Those Who Enjoyed
- In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knot
- Five Little Indians by Michele Good
- As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
- An Indigenous History of the United States by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz