“Honoring Native Women” – March is Women’s History Month
Mary Crow Dog with Richard Erdoes
Grove Press ½ 272 pp ½$18.00
Indian country is still mourning the February 14, 2013 loss of Mary Ellen Brave Bird-Richard, 58, who became famous “Lakota Woman” due to the huge success from the book with the same name.
When “Lakota Woman” was released she was known as Mary Crow Dog because of her marriage to Lakota medicine man Leonard Crow Dog.
Upon its publishing release in 1990, “Lakota Woman” became a bestseller and won the 1991 American Book Award. Four years later, the book was adapted into a made-for-television movie, “Lakota Woman – Siege at Wounded Knee,” Mary Crow Dog was played by Irene Bedard, Inupiat Eskimo.
“Lakota Woman” is an autobiographical poignant account of hardship lived by Crow Dog as she grew up in immense poverty and her Indian boarding school experiences. Born on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, she grew up in a one-room cabin, without running water or electricity. She was born to a white father and American Indian mother. Her father abandoned her mother and her. Mary was raised by her maternal grandmother until she later was sent to St. Francis, a Catholic-run Indian boarding school, where she ran away from when she was 17.
“Lakota Woman” presents an insider’s view of important events in contemporary American Indian history. She participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties which culminated in the takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC in November 1972 and occupation of the hamlet of Wounded Knee in late February of 1973.
While at Wounded Knee, she gave birth to her first child, Pedro, who was the only baby born during the 71-day siege. Soon after Pedro was born, she left and was arrested. Authorities attempted to take Pedro from her. She was able to get him back after a one-day stay in jail.
Soon after the Wounded Knee occupation ended, she married Leonard Crow Dog. During their marriage, Leonard was arrested and tried where he was given a 19 year sentence for his involvement with the American Indian Movement. Mary gallantly worked for his release by traveling throughout the United States on a speaking tour to raise awareness to his improper imprisonment and raising funds to pay legal fees.
Besides “Lakota Woman,” Brave Bird – Richards wrote “Ohitika Woman” in 1993. The first memoir “Lakota Woman” gives account of her life through 1977. “Ohitika Woman” provided an account of her life after 1977. Both books were edited by Richard Erdoes.
As Indian country mourns her loss, “Lakota Woman” is worthy of a revisit for those who previously read it and a first-read for those who have not read it – especially for younger American Indians who will gain a sense of value to the struggles American Indians endured so that they may have better future as they fought hard for Indian rights during the 1970s and the retention of their culture.
Indian country can be forever grateful Lakota Woman shared her story.