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Lakota Women

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Lakota Women

Lakota women, written by Mary Crow Dog, is an enticing autobiography which centers on the lifestyle of a young Indian woman growing up in the slums of the Rosebud Indian Reservation located in South Dakota. Her story is paralleled by thousands who joined her along the way, those who traveled all over America to fight for what the Indian nation deserved and did not hesitate to speak out about what they fought for. The book centers on a time period for the Indians which could similarly compare to what Negroes endured in their quest for freedom. Throughout the book, the author continues to explain the importance of how family traditions, rituals and history brought together Indian reservations all over the east coast, and how this lifestyle brought so many different backgrounds together in the toughest of times. With the determination to live her lifestyle to the fullest potential, and the fight within herself to make a change for those around her, Mary Crow Dog explains the trials and tribulations which she had to experience and how it shaped her into one of the most influential American Indians of her time. One of the most significant themes within the book relates back to what I mentioned previously in that the family traditions of the Sioux tribes goes deeper than many can even fathom. Mary Crow Dog was a part of the “Burned Thigh”, the Brule Tribe, and explains early in the book how generations and generations of heroes and the significant ideologies shared amongst their close, and not-so-distant relatives, made a bond around the Reservation which brought them together in the toughest of times. Sharing stories together about significant American Indian events, such as the Battle of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, created an atmosphere throughout all of the tribes that imbedded the values of determination, sacrifice, and hard work deep into their lifestyle. This is presented near the beginning of the book when Mary’s grandma is explaining to her as a teenager that whenever visitors come and visit their cabin, she will always feed them no matter how many rations of food are left for their own family to eat. This simple deed shows that no matter who, or how many people, show up to a Sioux family doorstep, it is the rich tradition of unity and love that binds them together over all else. When the white people were driven in to break up the tribes of the Rosebud Reservation and allot each tribe their own section of the land, their sole purpose was to develop Indian children more towards the “white”, or correct way of life, as opposed to what the Sioux valued themselves around, which was known as the Tiyospaye. This included close family members who were together at all times during the day, watching out for each other’s children and safety. With this separation caused many young Indians to be brought up solely by their grandparents, due to wives and husbands working continuously throughout the day to provide for their families, and close relatives being forced to move to different parts of the reservation. Throughout the book, Mary describes that the role of the women was of great importance. In the beginning, a Cheyenne proverb was used to explain that women have always been the backbone that holds a tribal nation together. As the book unfolds, their become more and more instances in which these Indian women can no longer stay in the background, but to start contributing as much as their respective husbands are giving. This started to take precedence when the second Wounded Knee. Mary explains that she admitted to not knowing what she was going to get herself into, but she was going to make a stand because everyone else went, because she was young and it was her lifestyle to stick up for what she believed in as long as it made a mark of defeat for the white man. Women were used in many different ways at this time. Some stepping up and using old souvenir guns, others being put to work making food or helping out in the hospital, women were no longer kept behind scenes, but more or less making as much impact as the man standing next to her. This continues to the last chapter when Mary’s husband, Leonard, explains to her the significance of the First Women and the White Buffalo Women. Both of these instances were to engrain in her the lifestyles that the Indians lived by. With the First Women given power from the spirit to make first life, including the Indian man, and the White Buffalo Women bringing the gift of the ptehincala-huhu-chanunpa, the sacred pipe which is used for all ritualistic meetings and dances. It was these stories which proved to Mary the importance of her role as a Lakota woman.
Another important theme that had been promoted throughout the book was racism. At a young age in third grade was the first experience Mary had when dealing with racism. She came to this realization when she was not allowed to buy a set of oranges from a grocery store for the sole fact of being from an Indian background, which she had been longing to buy for some time. When Mary was sent to the mission school, this reaffirmed her enlightenment of how mistreated Indians were during her time as a teenager. With uptight working schedules and lack of quality of food and sanitation, it did not take long for Mary to realize that she was going to have to start making changes of her own. As Mary quit school and began to explore life outside of her reservation, it wasn’t long for before she had to sober up to real life. Gathering at pubs which claimed, “NO DOGS OR INDIANS ALLOWED” and getting arrested for mere felonies of self protection, there was no justice for her or anyone that followed her. This is what sparked a fire which drove her to find out how she can change this stereotype and find equality for her people.
In my opinion, I believe Mary does a great job throughout the book explaining the reasoning for her actions and why she chose the lifestyle that she did. Her intentions were meant to be heard by teenagers like myself and even young adults just coming into their teenage years because it makes me take a step back and realize how much different up an upbringing I have had compared to her own. Her rationale of not accepting to be different and her motives to desire a change for the Indian people is the driving force behind her story. The simple fact that the white man has interfered with the freedom and liberties of Indian Americans for centuries is the sole reason why she caravanned thousands of miles, shacked up in American Indian Movement (AIM) buildings in Washington, and risked her life having a child at Wounded Knee. It was these little things which had such a profound impact on everyone around her which kept her going.
Finally, without a doubt, the book was very well-written. She does an excellent job pointing out the little things which had a deep meaning. For instance, she, along with the rest of her Sioux nation, were heavy peyote users. It allowed them to connect with a “hotline” to the Great Spirit. The smoke, fire, and and skin which all people share while enjoying the medicine all had a symbolic meaning. During Wounded Knee, bringing back the Ghost Dance was a religion of love, forbidden by whites, but everyone participating knew the importance of the ritual. Finally, relating back to the theme of family, as Crow Dog and Spotted Tail, once cousins, began to separate due to different believes. Crow Dog murdered Spotted Tail and was told that he was going to be given a life sentence. Although he went unconvicted, it was not the same case back on the Reservation. A man called Black Crow told Crow Dog that he was going to be doing everything by himself; eating, rituals, smoking the pipe, sleeping, etc. This is just a small example that although your deeds may go unpunished, it still has a large affect on the people around you.
In conclusion, Lakota Woman was a book that caught me by surprise. Not only did it provide insight to a history that I was unfamiliar with, but made me more aware of the struggles that so many had to go through to gain a sense of freedom.

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