Mary Brave Bird Criticism - Essay

Gretchen M. Bataille (review date 19 June 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Search for an Indian Self," in The Washington Post, June 19, 1990, p. 4.

[Bataille is an American educator and author of several books on Native American culture. In the following favorable review of Lakota Woman, she praises Brave Bird's candor but suggests that the work's "cyclical" structure may be difficult for readers used to linear narratives and chronological autobiographies.]

Mary Crow Dog's autobiography, Lakota Woman, is the story of one woman; however, it tells the tale of many Indian women who have faced the wrath and the pride of their own men and the brutality of government control, and benign neglect, but who have emerged strong and whole in spite of their wounds. Mary Crow Dog is a Lakota woman, and the narrative resonates with the anguish of that reality.

Hers is a harsh story of enduring the whip of Catholic nuns in boarding school and the pain of losing some of her friends in the Indian struggle for civil rights. The title reflects her final acceptance of identity: From viewing herself as a half-breed to achieving wholeness through the Sun Dance ceremony, she has accepted her role within the tribe and for herself.

The traditional power of women, based on the stories of White Buffalo Woman and celebrated by puberty ceremonies, has been eroded and Indian women have been the victims of rapes, beatings and forced sterilizations. Although Mary Crow Dog recognizes that Indian men give "great lip service to the status women hold in the tribe," women are no longer held in such high esteem as tradition would dictate.

Structurally the narrative is difficult to follow if one is accustomed to chronological life histories. But Mary Crow Dog is Indian, and the cyclical pattern so often employed in stories and reflected in ceremonies provides the framework for her narrative. The cycle began before 1890 and erupted with Wounded Knee and the massacre of Indian people by the 7th Cavalry. Eighty-three years later Mary Crow Dog has her first son during the 1973 takeover at Wounded Knee. Echoes of the past reverberate throughout the book; she recalls the "ghostly cry and lamenting of a woman and child coming out of the massacre ravine" of Wounded Knee Creek while she escapes the gunshots that strike close to her and her new baby.

Mary Crow Dog, the wife of the Sioux holy man Leonard Crow Dog, provides the reader with information about Indian history and contemporary reality as she interweaves her life story with that of her people. Although the traditional tiyospaye, or...

(The entire section is 1075 words.)

Patricia Guthrie (review date 1 July 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Lakota Woman, in The New York Times Book Review, July 1, 1990, p. 15.

[In the following review, Guthrie assesses Lakota Woman.]

"Two thousand came to Wounded Knee in 1973. One stayed," reads the epitaph of a Sioux Indian buried at the South Dakota site. Mary Crow Dog was part of the 71-day siege of Wounded Knee's museum, church and trading post by the American Indian Movement. Seventeen years old at the time, she lost an uncle and bore a son during the takeover, which pitted the Federal Government's military might against medicine men and young men armed with old rifles. Ms. Crow Dog's Lakota Woman, written with Richard Erdoes, the author of The Pueblo Indians and The Sun Dance People, details how she arrived at that fateful confrontation. Raised by Sioux grandparents and a mother who refused to teach her the native language because "speaking Indian would only hold you back, turn you the wrong way," Ms. Crow Dog received her initiation into Indian traditions during the Wounded Knee siege, where she learned from the spiritual leader Leonard Crow Dog, whom she subsequently married. The story of her coming of age in the Indian civil rights movement is simply told-and, at times, simply horrifying. Throughout the book, Ms. Crow Dog's recollections seem to exemplify the Cheyenne proverb that introduces her story: "A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground."

Penny Skillman (review date Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fleshing Out Our Story of America," in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Vol. VI, No. 4, Summer, 1991, p. 5.

[In the following excerpt, Skillman praises Brave Bird's candid portrayal of the American Indian Movement during the 1960s in Lakota Woman.]

Mary Ellen Crow Dog tells such an entertaining story of her life in Lakota Woman that it is easy at times to overlook the fact that the tale is about the Native American struggle to stave off genocide. Crow Dog relates how a young hippie from New York visited the Rosebud reservation on which she lived in the late 1960s and challenged the "res" Indians: "Black people are getting it on. Indians are...

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Mahtowin (review date March-April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mary Crow Dog: Real Life Hero," in New Directions for Women, Vol. 21, No. 2, March-April, 1992, p. 28.

[Mahtowin is a Lakota political activist who writes about Native issues. In the following essay, she praises the positive portrayal of Native American women in Lakota Woman.]

Being a Native woman, I think a lot about the fact that there are so few positive images of Native women in American popular culture. Chances are if you can name three historically prominent Native women, they will be Pocahontas, Sacajaweah and La Malinche, all three of whom, at best, were severely taken advantage of by the white conquerors or, at worst, betrayed their race.


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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 July 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Ohitika Woman, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXI, No. 13, July 1, 1993, p. 827.

[In the following review, the critic offers a mixed assessment of Ohitika Woman, stating that while it lacks the "excitement" of Lakota Woman, it is "a forceful presentation of Native American life today."]

Native American activist Brave Bird—whose autobiography Lakota Woman (1990; written under the author's former married name of Crow Dog) will soon be released as a film directed by Jane Fonda—returns with a disturbing sequel.

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Pat Monaghan (review date 1 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Ohitika Woman, in Booklist, Vol. 90, No. 1, September 1, 1993, p. 10.

[In the following positive review of Ohitika Woman, Monaghan provides an overview of the book and briefly discusses its publishing history.]

More than a decade ago and hard upon the success of Lame Deer: Seeker of Visions, the autobiography of a Lakota shaman that he coauthored, [Richard] Erdoes completed another manuscript. As he relates in his introduction to this volume [Ohitika Woman], that manuscript was rejected by his publisher. "This book is much too radical," the wise editor said. "Mysticism is in. Make her into a witch." Erdoes and Brave Bird (then Crow Dog) refused. That manuscript became the best-selling Lakota Woman (1990), which related Brave Bird's life as a rebellious, hard-drinking reservation girl who gave birth to her first child while a teenager on the embattled Wounded Knee reservation. Lakota Woman closed when Brave Bird was a partner to radical shaman Leonard Crow Dog. Ohitika Woman picks up Brave Bird's life from then to the present. Far from rising above all the problems of poverty and alienation on the reservation, Brave Bird eventually found herself overwhelmed by them. The book opens with Brave Bird crashing, drunk, into a power pole and ends with her "enduring," as she says. In between, we learn of the difficulties facing Native American women today: the domestic brutality, the abandonments, the assaults. But we learn as well of the medicine and rituals that strengthen women of Native American heritage. Despite the pain that courses through it, the book is ultimately hopeful, even if the hope is just that Native American women can continue to endure.

Gretchen M. Bataille (review date 3 September 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Brave Woman's Saga of Survival Continues," in The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 85, No. 196, September 3, 1993, p. 11.

[In the following favorable review, Bataille examines the themes in Ohitika Woman, focusing on the role of women in contemporary Native American society and the cultural clash between Native and White American societies.]

Mary Brave Bird is Ohitika Win, or Brave Woman, the name she earned as a result of her commitment to her people and her community. The badge was not won easily, as this account of a hard life shows.

Brave Bird's story up to 1977 was recounted in Lakota Woman (1990), and Ohitika Woman...

(The entire section is 709 words.)