Young Indigenous women are some of the most invisible and unrepresented people on Earth. That is one reason to read Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog, nowBrave Bird, with Richard Erdoes even though it was published in 1990. Another reason is that it won the American Book Award in 1991. Yet another reason is for the insight it provides into some of the tough issues young women on reservations continue to confront: violence, rape, alcoholism, drug abuse, racism, exploitation, poor education, grinding poverty. This is not a calm, quiet memoir of a certain time and place written by a woman looking back in nostalgia with some polite veneer of wisdom gained by mature hindsight. Lakota Woman offers the perspective of a very candid, blunt spoken, tough, and passionate young woman who makes no apologies for anything. This is a woman who now knows who she is, where she came from, and why. Part of her story includes giving birth to her first child during the siege at Wounded Knee in 1973 after refusing to leave in spite of the increasing danger. While Lakota Woman does not offer any in-depth analysis of the American Indian Movement, the Trail of Broken Treaties or the Native American Church, it does offer a no punches pulled, first person female perspective based on direct experiences with all of them– a young Lakota female perspective seldom encountered in the mainstream American culture.
I am a iyeska, a breed, that’s what the white kids used to call me. When I grew bigger they stopped calling me that, because it would get them a bloody nose. I am a small woman, not much over five feet tall, but I can hold my own in a fight, and in a free-for-all with honkies I can become rather ornery and do real damage. I have white blood in me. Often I have wished to be able to purge it out of me. As a young girl I used to look at myself in the mirror, trying to find a clue as to who and what I was. My face is very Indian, and so are my eyes and my hair, but my skin is very light. Always I waited for the summer, for the prairie sun, the Badlands sun, to tan me and make me into a real skin. (p.9)
Such are the words of Mary Brave Bird of the Brule Tribe from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Consider the memoirs current teenaged women of Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Standing Rock and the Cheyenne River Reservations might share–if anyone dared put them into print. Lakota Woman might offend some, might make some very uncomfortable, and distress others. It certainly won’t bore anyone. It definitely offers a great deal to think about regarding women, culture, family, history, spirituality, politics, and values.
Mary Crow Dog/Brave Bird online http://marycrowdog.com/index.html
Wikipedia list of American Book Awards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Book_Award
American Book Awards — Before Columbus Foundation http://www.beforecolumbusfoundation.com/about-bcf.html
Maze of Injustice, the failure to protect Indigenous Women from sexual violence in the USA, PDF file of Amnesty International http://www.amnestyusa.org/pdfs/MazeOfInjustice.pdf Perhaps this report offers one explanation for the legistative difficulties faced by the VAWA. Why would non-Native men want to start allowing arrest and prosecution of the non-Native men who rape Indigenous women on reservations? No rocket science required.