Gretchen M. Bataille (review date 19 June 1990)
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.)