Lakota Woman Analysis

  • Mary Brave Bird's Lakota Woman describes the difficulties faced by Native American women. Not only are their cultures marginalized by governmental and societal forces, their lives are often devalued by men in their own communities.
  • Brave Bird's book describes her personal reclamation of Sioux culture through religious and political activities. She embarks on this reclamation despite the countervailing influences of her school and, in some cases, her own family.
  • Brave Bird traces the importance of the American Indian Movement in her own search for identity. By aligning herself with a broader purpose, her own life became meaningful after years of restlessness.


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Last Updated on February 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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Mary Crow Dog’s memoir details a series of real-life stories about the author’s own life and those of other Native American women. The stories are connected by the difficulty of being an indigenous woman in the United States. Mary Crow Dog gave birth to her first child in the midst of an FBI firefight during the indigenous takeover of Wounded Knee, and she recounts the stories of other women around her who were violently abused and murdered. She recounts her own rape at a Catholic boarding school and writes, “If you plan to be born, make sure you are born white and male.” Crow Dog adopts an intersectional approach to activism and emphasizes the multiple levels of oppression and hardship that plague the women of both the reservation and the American Indian Movement. While her book paints an often bleak picture of indigenous womanhood, it also stands as a testament to the strength and courage of female activists and leaders who risk their lives for freedom. 

In addition to its ruminations on gender, Lakota Woman is also an attempt to reestablish the legend and pride of the Lakota Sioux in a world that has taken away most of their traditions. Crow Dog begins by describing the traditions of her tribe and her upbringing without a father on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. As her father was French and Spanish, she was criticized as an "iyeska"—or "half-breed"—and sent to a Catholic boarding school in a process she refers to as "kidnapping." At the school, the nuns punished any indigenous children who attempted to practice their culture and instead pushed an agenda of assimilation through Christianity. The targeting of children for forced assimilation tactics is historically credited with breaking down the intergenerational bonds between indigenous communities. Children were punished for speaking their native languages or upholding tribal traditions. Thus, with no one to continue the practices, those traditions and languages often died out as older members of individual tribes died off. 

On a more personal note, Crow Dog describes the rootlessness of her life until the American Indian Movement gave her purpose. Her book almost resembles a memoir of spiritual conversion, as she becomes an adherent of AIM and participates in the indigenous takeover of Wounded Knee. Lakota Woman can be divided into the pre-AIM and post-AIM periods of Crow Dog’s life. Her descriptions of her early life provide a clear explanation for why AIM and its promise for Native Americans became so important to her. By joining AIM,Crow Dog is able to restore her connection with Native American beliefs and the Native American Church. She also writes that joining AIM saved her and brought her greater self-respect and deepened her association with the full-blooded Indians around her. In the process, she rejected Christianity and returned to the religion of her Lakota ancestors. Her story is one of modern rebirth and reclamation in a world that tried to take everything away from her.


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Last Updated on April 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

Lakota Woman describes Mary Crow Dog’s life from her birth in 1953 to the early 1970’s. Daughter of a full-blooded Lakota mother and a white father, Crow Dog was reared by her mother on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in tiny He Dog, South Dakota. She is a member of the Brule (Burned Thigh) or Sichangu Tribe, one of seven that constitute the Lakota (also known as Sioux) Nation. Before identifying herself with the American Indian Movement (AIM), she attended a grim and repressive Catholic school and lived a marginal existence as a shoplifter. The central events in her biography described in Lakota Woman are her participation in the AIM Trail of Broken Treaties March on Washington in 1972; her participation in the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973, where she gave birth to her son Pedro in April; and her involvement with the Native American church.

Lakota Woman interweaves Mary’s public story as an AIM Indian and her private story as a half-Native American woman whose troubled life exemplifies the lives of many Native Americans. As a historical account Lakota Woman is cheerfully biased and unsupported by documentation, but the drama of Mary’s story and her confident voice make the book a convincing portrait of her identity as a Native American woman.

Richard Erdoes, Mary Crow Dog’s collaborator, pieced together Lakota Woman and its sequel, Ohitika Woman (1993), out of audiotaped conversations and dialogue. The book therefore has the flavor and the rambling organization of talk, but it also is carefully constructed so that each chapter coalesces around the chapter title and epigraph. Thus, for example, the chapter titled “Aimlessness,” describing Mary’s wild youth and the problems of reservation life, comes right before the chapter titled “We AIM Not to Please,” which outlines the development of the American Indian Movement.

In Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog describes the conflict of Indian and European values, a conflict that has escalated into a clash between modern materialistic consumerism and the spiritual values of the Lakota. The spiritual side is represented by her then-husband Leonard Crow Dog. In another sense, the book is about change and assimilation. A main thrust of AIM’s efforts has been to secure for Native Americans the civil rights they are guaranteed under United States law. Mary Crow Dog’s story reveals a woman in the process of helping a new cultural identity emerge out of synthesis of ancient Lakota values and modern society.


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Last Updated on April 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 77

Suggested Readings

Brave Bird, Mary, and Richard Erdoes. Ohitika Woman. New York: Grove Press, 1993.

Fire, John, and Richard Erdoes. Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.

Matthiessen, Peter. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. New York: Viking, 1991.

Means, Russell. Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Wexler, Rex. Blood of the Land: The Government and Corporate War Against First Nations. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1992.