Mary Brave Bird

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Mary Brave Bird 1953–

(Also known as Mary Crow Dog, Ohitika Win, and Brave Woman) American political activist and autobiographer.

The following entry provides an overview of Brave Bird's life and career through 1993.

A Lakota Sioux of the Brulé, or Sichangu, tribe, Brave Bird is known for her autobiographies, Lakota Woman (1990) and Ohitika Woman (1993), both of which were written with Richard Erdoes. These works are notable for their candor and insight into the problems and challenges faced by Native American women in contemporary Native culture and American society.

Biographical Information

Brave Bird was born on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she was raised by her grandparents and educated at the St. Francis mission school. While a teenager, she became interested in the history, religion, and traditions of her people, and, in 1971, she joined the American Indian Movement (AIM). With other AIM members, Brave Bird occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C., in 1972 and participated in the protest and siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. There she met her future husband, Leonard Crow Dog, a Sioux holy man and Indian rights activist. She later divorced Crow Dog and remarried. She is the mother of five children.

Major Works

In Lakota Woman, which was published under the name Mary Crow Dog, Brave Bird recounts her impoverished childhood on the Rosebud Sioux reservation, her rebellious youth, her growing awareness of her heritage, and her marriage to Crow Dog. This work, which won the American Book Award in 1991, also details Brave Bird's involvement in the 71-day siege at Wounded Knee, during which her first child, Pedro, was born. Ohitika Woman, published under the name Mary Brave Bird, traces the author's life from 1977 to 1992. In this work, she describes her participation in the Native American Church, her continuing struggles with poverty and alcoholism, a near-fatal car accident, and her relationship with her children and second husband Rudy.

Critical Reception

Critical reaction to Lakota Woman and Ohitika Woman has been generally favorable. Most praise Brave Bird's candor in describing the difficulties and hardships of growing up as a Native American woman. Several critics comment on her "fierce feminism," her political activism in the American Indian Movement, and her work to preserve Indian identity, religion, and traditions. While some critics applaud her storytelling ability and accessible "kitchen-table style," a few fault the "cyclical" structure of her writing, arguing that it sometimes confuses the chronology of events and detracts from the impact of the narrative. Still, most critics agree that Brave Bird's autobiographies contribute much toward a better understanding of the cultural and social challenges faced by Native American women in contemporary American society. Gretchen M. Bataille has stated: "In her Lakota society, Brave Bird has found strength and support as well as a shared history. In spite of the poverty, alcoholism, and routine beating of women that she has witnessed and been a victim of, Brave Bird is a survivor who understands the context of her life. She is communicating her pain as well as her joys to people who see only curio shops on their trips through South Dakota."

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Principal Works