Lakota Woman

by Mary Brave Bird, Richard Erdoes

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Chapters 6–9

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Last Updated on April 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1382

Chapter 6 

Mary first encountered AIM at a powwow at Leonard Crow Dog’s home in 1971. She asked who Leonard Crow Dog was, taking note of his long hair, which was adorned with feathers. All the young men were wearing their hair long; one stood up and gave a speech about genocide and about how celebrating Thanksgiving was celebrating one’s own destruction. Leonard Crow Dog then said that they must all now speak “with [their] bodies” in protest against the white man. 

After Mary joined AIM, she stopped drinking. While there were many problems with AIM’s approach, it galvanized the American Indian community and gave them a purpose. Unlike the black movements of the same time, however, they did not want inclusion in the white world; rather, they wanted out. While at first they hated all white people, they came to realize that there were white supporters of AIM, such as Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda. 

Many in the movement married according to Indian custom; such marriages were not recognized by federal or state law. Mary entered one such marriage—with Leonard Crow Dog—and became pregnant. During this period, many of the old medicine men joined the youth movement, approving of its core aims. AIM would travel through reservations, occasionally holding up trading posts but never doing significant damage. The press, however, gave the impression that AIM was very violent. AIM held Sun Dances in the summer, in order to gather and get to know each other properly. After the Sun Dance of 1971, a member of the group, Richard Oaks, was murdered by a white man. This occurred shortly after another Sioux had been beaten to death. These violent acts birthed the Trail of Broken Treaties. 

In organizing the Trail of Broken Treaties, AIM leaders set up a series of caravans led by a spiritual leader, to begin at Wounded Knee and travel along the “Trail of Tears,” the road marched by the Cherokees who were driven out of their land following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. AIM members arrived in Washington, where they slept in a church, then at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where they took over the building. Nixon eventually sent an aide to tell them to go home, saying that much had been done for them already. AIM participants realized that while they “behaved nicely” they did not draw any attention, so they began pushing police and guards out of the building and starting fights. After this, it became a confrontation, with the police trying to force them out of the building and eventually cutting the telephone wires. In the end, a compromise was reached; the federal government offered to pay the Indians’ expenses and appoint two officials to consider their demands. Nothing substantial came of the offer, but the movement felt that the demonstration had been a victory, because it proved that they were able to work collectively against the government.

Chapter 7 

Indian religion was important to those who had been radicalized: they believed that as long as the old traditions were followed, their culture had not been stamped out. Mary first learned about the old ways from her grand-uncle Grandpa Dick Fool Bull, who discussed his desire to be buried in the traditional way and took Mary to peyote meetings. At her first peyote meeting, she “felt the drumbeat in [her] heart” and the next morning she told her mother that she been to a Native American Church meeting. Her mother was initially hurt but accepted Mary’s freedom to choose her spiritual path. Two weeks later, Mary had a dream in which she saw the life experiences of another Indian woman long ago. Mary believed the dream was sent by the peyote.

Mary only truly understood the importance of peyote to Leonard Crow Dog, a traditional Indian medicine man, after she married him. Peyote came to the Plains Indians just as the buffalo were being stamped out and the tribes moved onto reservations. It helped the Indians cope and joined them together. Indians uniting at peyote meetings were just one tribe, though they could not speak to each other except in English. At the meetings, drums were beaten and songs sung. Crow Dog’s family had been among the first group of Native American Church attendees persecuted by white people, because they were seen as standing in the way of “whitemanizing” the native peoples. After Wounded Knee, Mary and her husband began to travel south to the “peyote gardens,” which were located near the Pueblo Indians. Mary found that the Pueblo Indians, who inhabited their ancient villages, lived better than the Sioux did. Leonard had the right to travel into Texas and Mexico to purchase peyote. A “chief peyote” plant was procured for Barbara. Their grandmother, Louise Flood, who usually refrained from Indian religious practices, was willing to water it, as if some element of her recognized the importance of Indian religion.

Chapter 8

In 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act declared that each Indian nation was to have an elected president. This measure was well-meaning, but it destroyed the traditional forms of self-governance and also encouraged corruption and nepotism. One such example was Dicky Wilson, the corrupt tribal president of the Pine Ridge reservation, which neighbored Rosebud. He abolished free speech and assembly on his reservation, misused tribal money, and formed a private army to maintain power. 

AIM began protesting in Rapid City, near Pine Ridge, against police brutality and poor housing. Wilson had one of AIM’s leaders, Russel Means, beaten up. The Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization then asked AIM for help against Wilson. This set the Wounded Knee Occupation of 1973 in motion. 

At the outset of the event, Mary was eight months pregnant and not yet married to Leonard. She was at Rapid City with AIM and joined the protests, despite friends saying she was in no condition to do so. They set out for the town of Custer, where the case of a white man who had killed a Sioux man was being tried at the local courthouse. When the group tried to enter the courthouse, tear gas, smoke bombs and fire hoses were used against them by police. Many Indians were clubbed and beaten by police. In retaliation, Indians began rioting, breaking windows and setting fire to the Chamber of Commerce. 

After this incident, AIM returned to Pine Ridge, where Wilson and his “goons” were waiting. A pow-wow was held between AIM and the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) and many tribal elders. It was determined that the group should go to the nearby town of Wounded Knee to make a stand. The group dug trenches and made bunkers. They had only one automatic weapon. A demand was issued to the government: “Come and discuss our demands or kill us!” 

Chapter 9 

The siege at Wounded Knee lasted seventy-one days. The group first captured a church, where Mary slept. The FBI and press soon arrived and surrounded them. AIM established a community hall. Many of the women, as well as men, were armed and engaged in firefights with the FBI and nursed the wounded. Mary was shot at; she refused to stay inside despite being heavily pregnant. 

The Indians held a good position and would engage in guerrilla fighting, which the FBI could not do. One night, some Indians raided a government bunker and stole supplies. Then a helicopter was brought in to shoot at the Indians, and the telephone lines were cut. Armored cars and grenade launchers intensified the pressure. 

At Wounded Knee, Mary met Annie Mae, who would become her close friend. She helped look after Mary’s baby once it was born. 

Periodic meetings took place between government negotiators and Indian leaders, but the government would not compromise before there was surrender of arms. Supporters, including Vietnam veterans, airdropped food to the AIM. 

Two Indians were killed at Wounded Knee, one of them being Frank Clearwater. After he was shot, the Indians asked for a ceasefire. When AIM leaders went out with white flags, the feds shot at them anyway. The second Indian man killed was Buddy Lamont, who was shot through the heart during a firefight and was buried at Wounded Knee.

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Chapters 1–5


Chapters 10–14