Lakota Woman Themes

The main themes in Lakota Woman are the intersection of justice, identity, and politics and the formation and reclamation of identity.

  • Justice, identity, and politics: Mary Brave Bird's adolescent search for identity is connected to a broader quest for justice. It is through joining the American Indian Movement that Brave Bird is able to step into a state of maturity.
  • Formation and reclamation of identity: Because she is part-Sioux and part-white, Brave Bird's childhood is defined by rootlessness and transience. By consciously reclaiming her heritage, Brave Bird develops an authentic and grounded identity.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 565

The Intersection of Justice, Identity, and Politics

The American Indian Movement (AIM) sought to ensure justice under the law for all Native Americans and to promote a revival of traditional practices. Over the course of the twentieth century, indigenous Americans increasingly drew attention to legal and civil rights issues, as...

(The entire section contains 565 words.)

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The Intersection of Justice, Identity, and Politics

The American Indian Movement (AIM) sought to ensure justice under the law for all Native Americans and to promote a revival of traditional practices. Over the course of the twentieth century, indigenous Americans increasingly drew attention to legal and civil rights issues, as well as to the US government’s history of abuses. From the 1960s onward, thousands of Native Americans joined the American Indian Movement as part of a widespread initiative to see US government commitments honored. AIM called attention to the many broken treaties and other agreements that the government had ignored or violated. AIM activism included the two-month-long occupation of the Wounded Knee site on the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, reservation. Although the siege led to several deaths and arrests, it was even more important in calling international attention to indigenous issues.

Mary Crow Dog, along with her then-husband, Leonard Crow Dog, participates in the Wounded Knee protest. By that time, she has come to reject much of the traditional Catholic education she received growing up on a reservation as a mixed-race child. Mary is frank about her rebellious adolescence, drinking problems, and brushes with the legal system throughout her teenage and early adult years. Coming of age for her means joining with others involved in the struggle for justice and putting herself at the forefront as an activist. Lakota Woman blends the personal with the political in order to emphasize the hardships of those living on the margins of society. Mary’s upbringing on the reservation, the abuses she suffers in the Catholic school, and her eventual discovery of AIM are all part of her continued quest for justice and belonging. From the moment she is born, her identity is politicized, and it is only through embracing her place within the broader movement that Mary is able to look beyond seeking justice for herself and instead seek justice for all indigenous peoples.

Identity Formation and Reclamation

Mary Crow Dog’s narrative shows the formation of her identity, from growing up on a South Dakota reservation to taking part in occupations and marches. While Lakota Woman, as a memoir, focuses on one individual, it also showcases the theme of the influence of social movements on personal identity. Mary is half white and half Sioux, which puts her in a sort of cultural limbo, as she feels disconnected from both halves of her heritage. This is further compounded by her being labeled a “half breed” on the reservation and by the efforts of the nuns to “whitemanize” her and the other indigenous children. 

In her youth, Mary’s identity is constantly defined by other people, leaving little room for her to define herself. As a result, she becomes rebellious and abandons both ways of life: If she can’t be white and she can’t be fully Sioux, then she can instead become a transient, rootless person with no claim to either identity. However, finding AIM changes things for Mary. Rather than drifting through life with no roots and no connection to a broader community, she instead reclaims her Sioux heritage and learns that skin color and paternity are less definitive of one’s indigenous identity than actions and beliefs. Through her marriage to Leonard and involvement with the movement, Mary is finally able to define herself on her own terms as a proud Lakota woman.

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