Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lakota Woman - Posted by Ginger Simpson

Last month, I posted a letter I'd received from an expert on American Indians.  He suggested that if I wanted to get into the true spirit of the Sioux, I should order Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog.  I got the book and have been reading it to aid my writing and boost my research about the Lakota people.  I've been so moved by the story, I want to share the very beginning of the book.  Although this scene is not written about the same era which I elect to share in my novels, the content definitely has the hook that makes you want to read I'm getting a real feel of what the Indians have gone through at the hands of our government and the treatment they've received at the hands of the white people who call themselves Christians.  Let me introduce, Mary Crow Dog  (her married name):

I am Mary Brave Bird.  After I had my baby during the siege of Wounded Knee, they gave me a special name--Ohtika Win, Brave Woman, and fastened an eagle plume in my hair, singing brave-heart songs for me.  I am a woman of the Red Nation--A Sioux woman.  That is not easy.

I had my baby during a firefight, with the bullets crashing through one wall and coming out through the other.  When my newborn son was only a day old and the marshals were really upon us, I wrapped him up in a blanket and ran for it.  We had to hit the dirt a couple of times and I shielded the baby with my body, praying.  "It's all right if I die, but please let him live."

When I came out of Wounded Knee, I was was not even healed up, but they put me in jail at Pine Ridge and took my son away.  I could not nurse.  My breasts swelled up and grew hard as rocks, hurting badly.  In 1975, the feds put the muzzles of their M-16s against my heard, threatening to blow me away  Its hard being an Indian Woman.

My best friend was Annie Mae Aquash, a young, strong-hearted woman from the Micmac Tribe with beautiful children. It is not always wise for an Indian woman to come on too strong.  Anne Mae was found dead in the snow at the bottom of a ravine on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The police said she had died of exposure, but there was a 38-caliber slug in her head.  The FBI cut off her hands and sent them to Washington for fingerprint identification, hands that had helped my baby come into the world.

My sister-in-law, Delphine, a good woman who had lived a hard life, was also found dead in the snow, the tears frozen on her face.  A drunken man had beaten her, breaking one of her arms and legs, leaving her helpless in a blizzard to die.

My sister, Barbara, went to the government hospital in Rosebud to have her baby, and when she came out of anesthesia found she had been sterilized against her will.  The baby lived only for two hours, and she had wanted so much to have children.  No, it isn't easy.

When I was a small girl at the St. Francis Boarding School, the Catholic sisters would take buggy whips to us for what they called "disobedience."  At age ten, I could drink and hold a pint of whiskey.  At age twelve, the nuns beat me for "being too free with my body."  All I had been doing was holding hands with a boy.  At age fifteen, I was raped.  If you plan to be born, make sure you are born white and male.

It is not the big, dramatic things so much that get us down, but just being Indian, trying to hang on to our way of life, language, and values while being surrounded by an alien, more powerful culture.  It is being an iyeska, a half-blood, being looked down upon by whites and full-bloods alike.   It is being a backwoods girl living in a city, having to rip off stores to survive.  Most of all, it is being a woman.

Among Plains tribes, some men think that all a woman is good for is to crawl into the sack with them and mind the children.  It compensates for what white society has done to them.  They were famous warriors and hunters once, but the buffalo is gone and there is not much rep in putting a can of spam or an occasional rabbit on the table.

As for being warriors, the only way some man an count coup nowadays is knocking out another skin's teeth during a barroom fight.  In the old days, a man made a name for himself by being generous and wise, but now he has nothing to be generous with, no jobs, no money and as far as our traditional wisdom is concerned, our men are being told by the white missionaries, teachers and employers that it is merely savage superstition they should get rid of it they want to make it in this world.  Men are forced to live away from their children so they can get Aid to Dependent Children.  So, some warriors come home drunk and beat up their old ladies in order to work off their frustrations.  I know where they are coming from.  I feel sorry for the, but I feel even sorrier for their women.

Skipping ahead a little...

The Brule, like all Sioux, were a horse people, fierce riders and raiders, great warriors.  Between 1870 and 1880, all Sioux were driven into reservations, fenced in and forced to give up everything that had given meaning to their life--their horses, their hunting, their arms, everything.  But under the long snows of despair, the little spark of our ancient beliefs and pride kept glowing, just barely sometimes, waiting for a warm wind to blow that spark into a flame again.

Skipping again...just to the conditions in which Mary lived with her grandparents:

The old couple raised us way out on the prairie near He-Dog in a sort of homemade shack.  We had no electricity, no heating system, no plumbing.  We got our water from the river.  Some of the things which even poor white or black ghetto people take for granted, we did not even know existed.  We knew little about the outside world, having no radio and no TV.  Maybe that was a blessing.


Wow....I can't wait to read more of this fact by the time this blog is published, I will probably have finished it, but I wanted to whet your appetite.  I'm thinking that Yellow Moon (my current WIP) is going to take on a whole new meaning after this.  My current beginning chapters are way off base, according to the expert, and if anything, I want to get my historical facts right.

Maybe next month, I'll share more from Mary's story.  I think you might like that.  Right?


Kat said...

Great post, Ginger. :) When I was writing Lakota Honor, I read so many books, and Lakota Woman was one of them. This book is fascinating and sad at the same time. I too wanted to portray the Lakota Sioux as best I could and this book helped me do so.
Another book I read that I found very helpful was The Lakota Sioux history and culture of Native Americans.
Thanks for sharing, Kat :) :)

Lyn Horner said...

Ginger, thank you for sharing a little of Lakota Woman. Mary Crow Dog sounds like an amazing person. I would like to read her whole story -- with a box of tissues near at hand.

When I was writing Dearest Irish I read many books about the Kiowa people, immersing myself in their culture and what they went through after being herded onto a reservation. What our white ancestors did to Native Americans is every bit as shameful as slavery.

Julie Lence said...

Oh my! When I first started reading this, I thought it came from back in the 1800's. When I saw the date, I was dumbfounded. How very sad. I knew the treatment to the Indians from the government was bad, but didn't realize it was this bad in modern times. Please post more.