Lakota Woman

by Mary Brave Bird, Richard Erdoes

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Lakota Woman Characters

The main characters in Lakota Woman include Mary Brave Bird, Leonard Crow Dog, Annie Mae Aquash, and Barb.

  • Mary Brave Bird is the author and protagonist of the book, which traces her restless youth and her work as an activist.
  • Leonard Crow Dog is Mary's husband and a medicine man who serves as leader in the American Indian Movement.
  • Annie Mae Aquash is a friend of Mary's and another AIM activist. She disappears under suspicious circumstances.
  • Barb is Mary's sister, whose youth on the Rosebud Indian Reservation is troubled.


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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Mary Brave Bird / Mary Crow Dog

Mary Crow Dog—later Mary Brave Bird—is a Sioux woman who was born to a white father and a Sioux mother. She grows up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she and her five siblings are raised by their grandparents. Her story is one of self-awareness, as she struggles with her mixed-race identity amid rejection from both white and Sioux societies. She endures discrimination, rejection, loneliness, violence, abuse, and self-destructive patterns. However, she eventually finds peace and purpose through activism with the American Indian Movement. After being exposed to the white and Sioux ways of life, Mary prefers the Sioux way of living and chooses to sustain and uphold native traditions in her adult life.

Leonard Crow Dog

Leonard Crow Dog is a traditional Sioux medicine man and AIM activist who becomes Mary’s husband. He is committed to preserving the cultural traditions of the Sioux and spends his life helping other indigenous people to organize and unite. His activism frequently lands him in legal trouble, and Mary travels the country to be near him while he is incarcerated. Leonard is very influential in Mary’s life, as he helps her identify fully with her Native American roots by teaching her about Sioux history, spirituality, and culture. Through Leonard, Mary reconciles her white and indigenous heritages and commits herself to following the traditions of the Sioux. 


Pedro is Mary’s son, who is born during the siege at Wounded Knee while Mary is supporting the AIM protest. He represents the completion of Mary’s transition from aimless adolescence to purposeful adulthood, as his birth coincides with Mary’s commitment to furthering the indigenus cause. 

The Catholic Nuns

The Catholic nuns work at the mission school on the reservation, which Mary is forced to attend. Mary and other indigenous children at the school feel that the nuns try to “whitemanize” them by promoting Christianity and discouraging native cultural practices. Eventually, the nuns infuriate and humiliate Mary to the point that she drops out of school and falls into alcoholism and transience. The nuns represent one of the primary historical means of destroying indigenous cultures. By taking indigenous children and forcing them to adhere to white, Christian modes of living, they effectively prevent indigenous cultures from proliferating and thereby sow division between generations. Mary must actively work to reclaim her Sioux heritage after being subjected to a Catholic upbringing. 

Annie Mae Aquash

Annie was an AIM leader who strongly influenced Mary's thoughts about civil rights and the need for activism. Annie took part in the Siege of Wounded Knee and helped organize and promote many other AIM protests and events. She was murdered under mysterious circumstances, a fate not uncommon for indigenous women and political leaders. Her life, and death, represent the power and impact of indigenous women on activist movements as well as their vulnerability in a sexist and racist society. 


Barb is Mary’s sister and also lives on the Rosebud reservation. She loses two children, and her plight exposes the poor medical conditions endured by indigenous peoples—especially women.

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