Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog

Re-read 18 years later

I met, Mary Crow Dog, in 1994, at her book signing, in Phoenix, Arizona. I was impressed that Mary took the time to not only sign my book, but she wrote a note and drew a picture. Richard Erdoes accompanied Mary, and he also signed his name under Mary’s.

When I read Lakota Woman in 1994, I enjoyed what I learned about the Lakota Sioux Nation’s people, customs, and history. Re-reading the book in 2012, I read for a different purpose. I’m writing a historical novel, and need to validate any facts I might include in my book.

Lakota Woman is just as fascinating a read in 1994 as it was today. Mary grew up as a Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Much like today, Pine Ridge was poverty stricken. Mary described her life, but she included other American Indians in her book.

She was raised in a one room shack, filled with many family members, with no amenities, much like camping. She described the daily life of Sioux women, and Sioux men, differentiating their roles. Ignorance was bliss for Mary, as she thought this was how everyone lived.  She viewed her childhood as happy because she basically had love in her family.  Domestic abuse was rampant in reservations, and there were dysfunctional families, as we call them today.

Indian children were sent to boarding school to ‘become white’, to shed their Indian ways and customs. The students were beaten and punished if they didn’t succeed in the daily attempts to change their traditional values. Mary left and became a street smart Sioux, she drank and shoplifted to survive.

As every teenager looked for something to be a part of, Mary joined the AIM (American Indian Movement). She was empathetic to her people and other Indian’s struggles and was hungry for knowledge. Mary shared the AIM events with her readers. Not all of it is pretty, by any means, but that is what is so fascinating. It’s a first-hand account of what American Indians suffered in the 1970’s.

Mary had a baby during the siege at Wounded Knee. Here she met her husband, Leonard Crow Dog; he was a medicine man and a leader, and also had children of his own. She was a naïve wife and mother, but she learned how to do both well and stood by her husband during his imprisonment and adversities during these tumultuous times.

The book includes sixteen photos that illustrate traditional customs, and put faces to names and places. Whether you read Lakota Woman to learn about the Lakota Sioux in general, or to obtain precise facts for your own research, it is the perfect book.

It is written on a young adult level, so it’s an easy read that any age would enjoy. It’s always fun to learn history through reading a story such as Lakota Woman vs. a textbook.

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