In Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes' Lakota Woman, how is the oral tradition present in Mary's description of her grandmother, Turtle Woman?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With respect to Mary Crow Dog’s (her married name; Mary Brave Bird being her birth name) memoir of life as a Native woman in a white man’s world, Lakota Woman, Turtle Woman is referred to as an aunt, not as Mary’s grandmother, as the student question suggests.  The operative passage from Lakota Woman includes the following description:

“I loved to visit Aunt Elsie Flood to listen to her stories. With her high cheekbones she looked like grandma. She had a voice like water bubbling, talking with a deep, throaty sound. And she talked fast, mixing Indian and English together. I had to pay strict attention if I wanted to under­ stand what she told me. . .The Indians held her in great respect, saying that she was “wakan,” that she was some sort of holy person to whom turtles had given their powers.”

Mary goes on to describe her aunt’s violent death by an unknown assailant, and the negligence on the part of law enforcement in failing to investigate this brutal crime.  Specific to the issue of oral story-telling, however, one can only surmise from the above passage, from Mary’s description of the Turtle Woman as a “medicine woman,” and from what is known regarding Native traditions, including the importance of oral story-telling, that her aunt was a practitioner of this tradition.  Mary’s reverence for her aunt is clear in the entirety of the descriptive paragraphs, and one clearly gets the sense that Turtle Woman was one of Mary’s greatest influences.  One can logically infer from the comment “I had to pay strict attention if I wanted to understand what she told me” that Turtle Woman was in fact the most important oral conveyer of her family and her tribe’s history in Mary’s life.

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Lakota Woman

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