Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog – Brave Bird ~ “It’s hard being an Indian Woman.”

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

Wikipedia list of American Book Awards

American Book Awards  —  Before Columbus Foundation

Maze of Injustice, the failure to protect Indigenous Women from sexual violence in the USA, PDF file of Amnesty International  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.



Crazy Brave, a memoir by Joy Harjo. Who needs a muse?

Click cover image to visit Joy Harjo online.

     “I often painted or drew through the night, when most of the world slept and it was easier to walk through the membrane between life and death to bring back memory. I painted to the music of silence. It was here I could hear everything.” Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo’s memoir, Crazy Brave, is one wickedly beautiful piece of intensely personal poetic writing.  This is not a fact crammed autobiography tossing up gossip and shallow dirt galore. This is a sharing of a poetic journey of becoming self in this strange world we inhabit. Harjo’s word craft strives to bridge the differences of perception and perceiving that often keep people unaware of their connections to each other and the universe. This is a memoir that offers a sense of what it means to be Joy as she unfolds to embrace her creative gifts.  Don’t read this book expecting to learn all about Joy’s journey into Jazz or how she feels playing on the international stage as a musician-poet.  Read this book as an opening act to learning about one woman’s love for art and music as life.  This is a book about spirit and love and suffering along a path that knows no limits or boundaries between time, space or place.  Certain experiences and people are shared as part of her journey as Joy contemplates past, present and future life. Dealings with lovers, friends and family are offered as part of the pathway to learning to speak and sing.  It’s about making choices and listening with trust to the knowing even when it speaks ever so softly.  It’s about making a commitment to the poetic spirit in the fullest sense of living.

     “To imagine the spirit of poetry is much like imagining the shape and size of the knowing. It is a kind of resurrection light: it is the tall ancestor spirit who has been with me since the beginning, or a bear or a hummingbird. It is a hundred horses running the land in a soft mist, or it is a woman undressing for her beloved in firelight. It is none of these things. It is more than everything” (JH p. 164).

Like many poems Crazy Brave can be read in one sitting yet it will stay with you long after the last page.  It may well haunt your dreams and intrude upon your waking hours.  The poetic journey is one without beginning or end. It’s an ongoing adventure. A work in perpetual progress. This is a memoir that reveals the poetic power of prose that sings a life song.             

God’s Hotel, check in and explore– A Doctor, A Hospital, and A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine with Victoria Sweet.

Click to visit God’s Hotel site.

I discovered Victoria Sweet’s book God’s Hotel, A Doctor, a Hospital, and Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine via  one of Roxie’s Two for Tuesday highlight offerings. The photography book, Infra, which was the primary interest draw for me still eludes my grasp, but Sweet’s tome was already strutting around the shelves of my public library awaiting my call–unlike most modern doctors of my experience. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to explore Sweet’s pilgrimage even when I put in the book request that would pull it from an inner city branch of the library to the eastern library outpost of my territory.  The cover art online certainly did nothing to attract anyone’s attention–in my opinion. Nor was I really in the mood for a full course meal of the intellectual arrogance usually found with the profession that produces God complexes galore.  But two things enticed me into giving God’s Hotel at least a ten page reading chance: the location of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and the concept of seeing the human body as “a garden to be tended.” I’ve spent just enough time in San Francisco to enjoy its quirky quality so a possible exploration of more quirky was enticing (Ahh the joys of discovering the quirky and dark side of Portland, Oregon as revealed by Chuck Palahniuk’s so-called travel guide of the city complete with rogue Santas. Reader beware–Portland will NEVER seem the same after you read Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon).  The concept of the human body as a garden is a very old one which has always made perfect sense to me–though I’ve never met a living physician espousing this view–until Victoria Sweet. Though I’m not sure reading her book really qualifies as ‘meeting’ her at all. Written text is one thing and a person in the flesh is quite another.  At first I wasn’t too sure about how far I’d venture into God’s Hotel with Sweet as guide. Luckily her own venturing into the world of Hildegard of Bingen’s Medicine evoked my curiosity about Victoria Sweet’s mind and I continued reading until convinced God’s Hotel offered more than a self-centered memoir.  Guess what God’s Hotel really really is. Come on, take a moment before reading further and guess just what this book about a hospital for the poor actually is.  Not a fair question because you’ve not read the book–yet? True. So I’ll let out the delightful strange and wonderful secret–it’s an indictment of the entire medical system as currently practiced en masse in the United States. Yes, it really really is. It’s not billed as such. It’s not marketed as such. I seriously doubt any medically connected reviewer would dare describe it as such. But at its very heart that is precisely what God’s Hotel presents in the best possible manner using the element of direct personal engagement with people over the course of time as the means for presenting the case that damns the current practice of medicine as a service industry. As such God’s Hotel is a GREAT book. Why? It’s a learning experience that teaches, informs and gently demands serious questioning of what is generally taken for granted in the medical profession–and the damned medical insurance industry with its factory minded drones.

Sweet manages to do something very difficult–she actually takes us on her own journey to enlightenment via not just her own experiences and explorations but the life stories of many other people met at Laguna Honda. Dr. Sweet is a learner and grower and a woman with an interesting mind curious about the practice of medicine before all the gadgets, hard metal toys, and purple pills for everything under the medical sun.  Her learning experiences are vital and vibrant. You will learn a great deal just from the patients she encounters and cares for at Laguna Honda. Oh my, did I use the word “care” in the same sentence with a doctor? Oh hell, yes I did. Will wonders never cease? I suppose NOT.

So please do give Sweet’s book at least a chance. I think at the very least you’ll be very glad to meet “Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merryman.” Oh yes there is a good dose of quirky in God’s Hotel. Such is the nature of humans engaging in self-determination. If you aren’t aware of Hildegard of Bingen’s existence you definitely will be via Sweet’s intellectual and physical pilgrimages.  I daresay God’s Hotel could be a most excellent foundation for any discussion of the health care system in America that is in such dire need of evolution.

“I had changed, too, but in a diametrically opposed way. Back on the admitting ward, meeting my old self, I discovered I did things differently, I saw things differently.

I took back to the admitting ward the lessons I’d learned from Mr. Bramwell and Mr. Bramwell’s sister-in-law, from Mr. and Mrs. Teal, from Paul, and from so many others, and, somehow medicine no longer seemed so complicated.”

Oh hell can the medical profession in the United States find its own beating heart? Maybe it can. Might require a few transplants though.

Victoria Sweet’s website

Roxie’s Blog

Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon via Powell’s Books–Portland’s HUGE glorious independent bookstore

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