In 1953 at the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, one of the most controversial American Indian authors was born. Mary Brave Bird (Sioux Indian name) which will be Mary Crow Dog in the future and to be an active activist against racial discrimination by the American whites was the writer of the two famous books, Ohitika Woman and the Lakota Woman.
Lakota Woman which had contributed to the Indian’s historical struggle against racial discrimination is the autobiography of Mary Crow Dog.
Here she described in full details her stressful story as an Indian girl who defined herself as half-breed. Her father has the blood of an American white while her mother is a full-blooded Sioux woman. Unfortunately, Mary was looked down upon by whites and full blooded-Indians alike because whites despised the Indians and vice versa. In effect, she grew up without friends and a loner.
Born by a Catholic mother, Mary was persuaded to be a believer of this faith. She grew up in an indecent neighborhood where men are jobless, drunk and worthless. Women are even treated like slaves by their husbands. Having the blood of a white American, she was brought to a Catholic boarding school to Americanize her but Mary described her school environment comparative to prisons of the Nazi concentration camps.
She escaped from her school when she cannot bear the harsh treatment and the grave discrimination against her. Being outside the campus she joined small groups of outsiders and found solace with their company. She learned how to live the hard way but ultimately also learn how to blend with the drifters and smoke marijuana. She also became an alcoholic and was involved with many troubles.
Meeting a guy at the young age of 16, married and got pregnant eventually did not change her confused life. Mary was in constant motion and nowhere to go. She learned to live in the ghetto and had to be tough with the harsh environment.
Mary believed and felt that she was more of an Indian rather than partly an American because she was always treated as one. She became a member of a movement called the American Indian Movement (AIM) where he met her future husband, Leonard Crow Dog. Leonard was an Indian activist and a medicine man of many villages. He is constantly on public speaking against racial discrimination of American Indians and spoke of their rights and speaking of injustices. AIM, however, was founded in 1968 with the goal of fighting the white’s discriminatory justice and social system. Their movement was inspired from the revolutions of blacks against whites’ racism.
Eventually, Mary’s amazement with Leonard’s eloquence got Mary’s interest and the two fell in love and finally married. But Leonard was 12 years older than Mary and marrying him was not easy. The family of Leonard does not agree with the relationship because she was not a pure Indian by blood. Her family does not accept Leonard either because he is not a Christian. As they both fought for their love, eventually their love lead to marriage.
One of the highlights of this book was the killing of one of the leaders of AIM by a white man in 1973. The murderer was not properly investigated and was quickly released without the proper trial. The American Justice system obviously was one-sided for the whites as in this case. The American Indians were outraged and riots were formed outside the court which led to destruction of properties, looting, and more fighting with the police. The struggle led to their grouping at the Wounded Knee. Wounded Knee was symbolical to the Sioux Indians as this is where in 1890, 300 Indian men, women and children were massacred by authorities fighting for their rights of their ancestral land.
Mary participated in spite of being pregnant. She said she was ready to face any consequence if there would be an attack against them. Although the FBI and the federal government tried to stop their protest, their pleas for fair trial had not been heard. Riots again broke out which resulted in the killing of two Indians and several people injured including a white man.
That same year, Leonard together with three of their members thought of bringing their case to Washington to personally state their grievance. But during Leonard’s absence, Mary’s uncle was murdered. Together with her son Pedro, she went to attend her uncle’s funeral. But on the way to her visit, the police snatched her, put her in prison and took her baby away. Leonard was outraged when he discovered about his wife’s events. He immediately went back from his meeting in Washington with an agreement in his hand and bailed out Mary out of prison.
One of the uneventful things that Mary encountered was when she and her husband attended a ceremony for Indian rites in Washington. After the rite and about to go home, they found out that their gas tank was punctured and leaking. Two white men who obviously are the culprit were still there and even laughing at them.
Confronting them, they began to attack Leonard, pulling his long hair and pushing him over. The commotion attracted a number of Indians and approached to help. Incidentally, some white men with their baseball bats appeared from nowhere and attacked all the Indians. Mary run to the police car parked nearby but instead of helping them they left and did not intervene. Later, they learned that one of the popular pastimes of these whites was to beat up Indians roaming in their area.
Leonard was a decent man and popularly known as a medicine man with no interest in politics. But to the white community, he was an activist, a rebel and a dangerous person especially after his stint at the Wounded Knee. The federal government knew that he has a great influence over all the Indians in the reservation areas and would listen to him. Eventually, a criminal plot was staged against him and the white’s influence in the federal court has led to his arrest. He was jailed with a 200,000 US dollar fine.
Mary had no option but to earn this money through public speaking on behalf of her husband’s imprisonment and the need to raise the money. Although money has been raised and he was freed, their house was burned down afterwards and attacks against AIM members resulted in many killings. Until now, their cases have never been investigated (Wolf).
Wolf, Dan. “Lakota Woman.” 2006. http://ericstoller.com/blog/2006/03/30/lakota-woman/.