Lakota Woman

by Mary Brave Bird, Richard Erdoes

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Chapters 15–16 and Epilogue

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Chapter 15 

At Wounded Knee, Leonard was charged with “interfering with federal officers’ duties” because he disarmed some infiltrating spies and explained to them peacefully why the Indians were protesting. For this he was given a suspended sentence. In order to be able to imprison him, an officer was sent to the Crow Dogs’ house. The officer was high on drugs and started a fight with Leonard. As a result Leonard was charged and given five years for assault and battery. A further charge was brought against Leonard after two drunken men crashed a car in his yard. 

Shortly after this, the FBI arrived at Crow Dog’s Paradise with 185 men. They broke into the house, held up Mary with two M-16s, and threw the infant Pedro across the room. The officers ransacked the camp and forced everyone out. Leonard and Annie Mae were arrested. The FBI had identified AIM leader Leonard Peltier (not to be confused with Leonard Crow Dog) as a suspect in the murder of two federal agents who had recently been killed at Pine Ridge. They had been told that Peltier had been hiding at Crow Dog’s camp, which was not the case. The agents instead took Leonard Crow Dog as a suspect and, after a series of farcical trials, he was sentenced to twenty-three years in prison. 

Leonard was moved through a series of high security prisons. AIM associates and white supporters appealed to many lawyers to help him—but to no avail. The justice system was biased against Indian activists. However, AIM was able to raise money using the power of the press. The $200,000 dollars they raised allowed Leonard to be freed after almost two years, but he had been treated terribly in prison, despite his being a model prisoner. He was humiliated by guards and received hate letters telling him that his wife was cheating on him. The prison officials also tried to argue that Leonard must cut his hair, even though to him it was sacred. For reasons of religious freedom, Leonard argued that he must be provided with his pipe, but the guards withheld his tobacco, without which the pipe was worthless. 

Leonard was also harassed for speaking to his family in Lakota on the telephone. He was sexually harassed by a priest and by other prisoners. When a psychiatrist tried to treat him, Leonard suggested that the psychiatrist himself was the one who needed assistance. He explained his case to the psychiatrist until the doctor was impressed, gave up his treatment plan, and began writing favorable reports about Leonard. But later, guards maliciously led Leonard to believe that he was going to be lobotomized. This was not the case, and when the story of the hoax broke, it caused an outcry.

In 1976, Crow Dog’s Paradise was burned down. Leonard was devastated, as this had been the house of his grandfather. He was also frequently moved to different prisons in different states, making it difficult for supporters and friends to visit. While Leonard was in prison, Mary learned from the many supporters AIM was able to recruit to assist in Leonard’s case. Leonard himself was forced to rely upon his own spirituality to remain alive and sane, given the often terrible conditions he faced. However, in some prisons he at least had the respect and affection of his fellow prisoners, one of whom made up a song for him. Many Indians also sent him poems, and he felt particularly close to the prisoners serving life sentences, feeling that they were especially caged. 

In the spring of 1976, Leonard was released...

(This entire section contains 1172 words.)

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for three months, pending bail. As his loved ones waited for Leonard to come out, Mary spread out Leonard’s sacred things while a Lakota singer sang an AIM song. They ordered him Chinese food, as he asked. Despite his freedom, he was sleepless, feeling that “mentally” he was still in prison. 

When the group traveled home to Rosebud, the homecoming was subdued, as Crow Dog’s Paradise was now gone. Three months later, he was told that his appeal had been denied and had to return to prison for another year. 

AIM began an appeal to Judge Robert Merhige for a reduction of Leonard’s sentence. Hundreds of letters poured into his office, and a bishop appealed to Merhige too. After having received letters from all over the world, Merhige gave in to the demands and ordered Leonard’s release. 

Leonard gave a speech, and a huge celebration was thrown, but Mary felt tired of the ordeal and wanted nothing more than to rest.

Chapter 16 

Leonard had lost fifty pounds in prison. His children had grown up; he and Mary had both changed. Mary had begun to learn from a number of feminists, who had increased Mary’s capacity to criticize Indian men, particularly those who beat their wives. Mary’s sister, Barb, left her boyfriend because of such abuse, which previously she may have simply endured. 

Leonard, too, became more interested in the roles women could play in the world and began to explore the position of women within Indian spirituality. He talked of the White Buffalo Woman, who brought the Sacred Pipe to the faith, among others. However, he could not quite cope with such radical ideas as a lesbian Sun Dance, believing that there were religious roles for men and women that could not be substituted. 

Leonard eventually embarked upon a vision quest in order to reorient himself within the world. This involved lying in a pit for four days and nights. 

The Sun Dance was one ritual which white men, for a long time, thought had been stamped out, but it had simply gone underground. Leonard ensured that the dance went on every summer after 1971. At first, Mary did not understand the ritual, but that changed one year when Leonard explained that he would cut flesh from her arm as a sacrifice for those who are suffering or sick. She was impressed by the young men who allowed themselves to be “pierced” a part of the ritual. Eventually, she herself was pierced “with two pins under the arms,” but felt no pain because she was “in the power.” 


Mary and Leonard had three children together: two boys, Anwah and June Bug, and a girl, Jennifer. Leonard’s daughters from his previous marriage, Ina and Bernadette, also had children of their own. Both of Leonard’s parents died, having been in good health until the end. 

Mary’s mother gave up nursing, attained a college degree, and became a schoolteacher in Rosebud. Her sister, Barb, married Jim, a good man. 

Pedro became a yuwipi man, running meetings and sweat lodges and participating in many Sun Dances. Meanwhile, many of those who took part in the AIM movement began working in quieter ways for Indian rights. Mary at one time left Leonard in a panic, but Leonard followed her, and they reconciled and returned to Rosebud. Mary and Leonard remained involved in the struggle for Indian rights.


Chapters 10–14