Lakota Woman

Lakota Woman

by

Mary Crow Dog

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Lakota Woman Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Mary Crow Dog's Lakota Woman. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Mary Crow Dog

Mary Crow Dog was born Mary Ellen Moore-Richard on September 26, 1954. A member of the Sicangu tribe (one of the seven Lakota tribes), Mary grew up on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her biological father left Mary’s mother before Mary was born, and Mary was primarily raised by her grandparents. As a child, she attended St. Francis Boarding School, a Catholic missionary school that forced its Lakota students to practice Christianity and assimilate to white American culture. Mary first encountered the American Indian Movement (AIM) in her late teens, when she heard Leonard Crow Dog (her future husband) speak at an event. She felt called to join the movement and participated in several historical events, such as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee, where she gave birth to her first child, Pedro. Shortly after the Occupation of Wounded Knee, Mary married Leonard. The couple later divorced, and in 1991, Mary married Rudy Olguin. In total, Mary had six children. Throughout her life, Mary went by several names. In addition to her birth name and the name she took after her marriage to Leonard Crow Dog, she is also known as Mary Brave Bird and Mary Brave Woman Olguin. She published Lakota Woman, her first book, in 1990 with the help of Richard Erdoes, an artist, writer, and activist who was a long-time friend of Mary’s. Erdoes also helped Mary publish her second book, Ohitika Woman, in 1993. Mary died at the age of 58 in California.
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Historical Context of Lakota Woman

Mary’s memoir Lakota Woman recounts her involvement with the American Indian Movement (AIM). The movement was founded in 1968 in Minneapolis, Minnesota with the original purpose of addressing the police brutality and systemic poverty that urban Native Americans faced. It quickly grew to address the civil rights of indigenous tribes across North America. Mary participated in several historic protests with AIM, including as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the Occupation of Wounded Knee. The Trail of Broken Treaties was a car caravan organized by several Native American organizations, including AIM. The caravan ended in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., which activists occupied while demanding that the government respect Native Americans’ rights. The Occupation of Wounded Knee took place in 1973 and was AIM’s response to the corruption and violence of government-supported Pine Ridge tribal president, Richard Wilson. Wilson had come to power after the U.S. government’s Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which implemented a democratic government within Native American tribes. He was a particularly corrupt tribal president, and violently oppressed any opposition to his “regime.” After the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) failed to impeach Wilson, AIM joined forces with OSCRO and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, the same site as the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, when U.S. soldiers massacred almost 300 Lakota people. The 1973 Occupation of Wounded Knee lasted 71 days, during which the town and activists were surrounded by U.S. Marshals, FBI agents, and police. The occupation ended when federal officials promised to consider the activists’ demands, such as the restoration of tribal treaty-making authority.

Other Books Related to Lakota Woman

Lakota Woman is one of two memoirs written by Mary Crow Dog. Her second memoir, Ohitika Woman, continues where the first left off, discussing her life after marrying Leonard Crow Dog in more detail. Mary wrote both memoirs with the help of Richard Erdoes, an artist and writer who wrote The Sun Dance People: The Plains Indians, Their Past and Present and The Rain Dance People: The Pueblo Indians, Their Past and Present. Erdoes also collaborated with several Native American activists and community leaders to write memoirs about their lives and experiences. These include Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions with John Fire Lame Deer, Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men with Leonard Crow Dog, and Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement with Dennis Banks. In addition, Clyde Bellecourt, one of the AIM’s co-founders, published an autobiography titled The Thunder Before the Storm: The Autobiography of Clyde Bellecourt. Both Ojibwa Warrior and The Thunder Before the Storm focus especially on the American Indian Movement, which plays a major role in Mary Crow Dog’s own memoir.
Key Facts about Lakota Woman
  • Full Title: Lakota Woman
  • When Published: 1990
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: North America, mainly South Dakota
  • Climax: Judge Robert Merhige releases Leonard Crow Dog from prison.
  • Antagonist: The U.S. government, Richard “Dicky” Wilson, and racism
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Lakota Woman

Historic Casting. Mary Crow Dog’s Lakota Woman was adapted into a 1994 film titled Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee. The film starred Irene Bedard, an actress of Inupiat and Cree ancestry, making Lakota Woman the first U.S. film with a Native American lead actress.

Risky Illustrations. In Lakota Woman, Mary Crow Dog mentions how Richard Erdoes sent a humorously illustrated letter to the judge on Leonard Crow Dog’s case in an effort to persuade him to release Leonard. Others saw this as risky, though the judge enjoyed the drawings. Before this, Richard had a history of making controversial drawings. When in Germany and Austria during the 1930s, Richard published political cartoons criticizing Hitler, who was in power at the time. When Nazi officials discovered Richard’s illustrations, Richard had to flee Europe.