Lakota Woman Summary

Lakota Woman by Mary Brave Bird and Richard Erdoes is a 1990 memoir detailing Brave Bird's upbringing on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and her involvement in the American Indian Movement.

  • Brave Bird was raised in the Brule Tribe on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. As a child, she witnessed the effects of poverty and alcoholism on Sioux culture and fled an abusive boarding school.
  • At eighteen, Brave Bird engaged herself with the Native American Church and the American Indian Movement. In 1973, she was involved in the pivotal Occupation of Wounded Knee, where she gave birth to her first child.

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Last Updated on February 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505

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Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog—who later took the name Mary Brave Bird—is a memoir of the author’s life as an American Indian woman in the mid-twentieth century. It, along with her second memoir, was co-written with author Richard Erdoes, a longtime friend of Crow Dog’s and a fellow activist. Crow Dog was half Lakota Sioux and half white, and she spent her childhood on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her teenage years were spent in a largely transient fashion, having taken up alcohol and petty crime after dropping out of her Catholic school. As an adult, Crow Dog found a sense of purpose in joining the American Indian Movement. She participated in many of the events the group organized, including the famous Siege at Wounded Knee. She was married to Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota medicine man and spiritual leader, with whom she had three children. The two later divorced, leading Mary to relinquish the name Crow Dog. She later published a second memoir, Ohitika Woman, which detailed her later life, including her involvement with the Native American Church and her relationships with her second husband and her children.

Plot Summary

Mary Crow Dog’s early life is characterized by poverty and rejection. As a mixed-race girl being raised by her grandparents on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, Mary often feels out of place in both white and Indian society. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, and the devaluation of labor, especially women’s labor, are common elements of Mary’s youth. Attending the St. Francis Catholic mission school only increases her difficulties and strengthens her rebellious streak: The sisters beat the indigenous children whenever they engage in activities relating to their culture, and the children are forced to convert to Christianity. The disillusionment brought on by the lack of a clear cultural identity leads Mary to adopt a life of alcoholism and rootlessness.

However, when Mary turns eighteen, she discovers the American Indian Movement (AIM) and finds her life’s purpose as an activist. Inspired by the hardships she faced growing up, Mary embraces AIM’s mission of addressing the poverty and violence that plague indigenous societies. She marries Lakota spiritual leader and AIM activist Leonard Crow Dog and participates in the 1973 AIM occupation of the town of Wounded Knee. The occupation is a response to the failed impeachment of corrupt Sioux tribal leader Richard Wilson and to the US government’s history of breaking treaties with indigenous tribes. The occupation lasts for seventy-one days, during which time local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation take violent action against the activists.

Through her involvement with AIM, Mary reconnects with her grandfather’s Native American Church and embraces her Lakota heritage. During the Siege at Wounded Knee, she discovers that she is pregnant, and her first child, Pedro, is born. His birth further inspires Mary to embrace AIM for the betterment of indigenous communities everywhere, as she has now seen firsthand the damage that the government and systemic poverty have wrought.

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