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.

Analysis

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

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. 

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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.

Commentary

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

Lakota Woman describes Mary Crow...

(The entire section contains 983 words.)

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