What Are the Books Lakota Woman and Ohitka Woman?

Question by Kevin7: What are the books Lakota Woman and Ohitka Woman?

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Answer by Ted H
“Lakota Woman” by Mary Brave Bird with Richard Erdoes
In this 1990 autobiography Mary Crow Dog relates her life growing up on a Sioux reservation and her involvement with the American Indian Movement during the 1970s. Lakota Woman describes Mary Crow Dog’s life from her birth in 1953 to the early 1970’s. Daughter of a full-blooded Lakota mother and a white father, Crow Dog was reared by her mother on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in tiny He Dog, South Dakota. She is a member of the Brule (Burned Thigh) or Sichangu Tribe, one of seven that constitute the Lakota (also known as Sioux) Nation.

Her girlhood, a vicious circle of drinking and fighting, was marked by poverty, racism and a rape at 14. She ran away from a coldly impersonal boarding school run by nuns where, she reports, Indian students were beaten to induce them to give up native customs and speech. The authors write of AIM’s infiltration by FBI agents, of Mary Crow Dog helping her husband endure prison, of Indian males’ macho attitudes. The book also describes AIM’s renewal of spirituality as manifested in sweat lodges, peyote ceremonies, sacred songs and the Ghost Dance ritual.

As contemporary history, it chronicles the rise of the American Indian Movement, including their battle at Wounded Knee in 1973 and their occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. What makes this account especially worthwhile is that it offers modern heroes who are also quite human. Mary Crow Dog is not afraid to tell the truth, even when those truths don’t make her particularly proud, or popular. Feminists may take issue with some of Mary Crow Dog’s views, but will no doubt come away from her book respecting them.

“Ohitka Woman” by Mary Brave Bird with Richard Erdoes (Harper 1994)
Sequel to the bestseller Lakota Woman (Brave Bird was then known as Mary Crow Dog), which takes place some 15 years after its predecessor, “Ohitika” means “brave” in Lakota. Writing with Erdoes ( The Pueblo Indians ), she devotes chapters to the peyote-using Native American Church, to the rituals of a Lakota sweat lodge and to the Sioux’s fight for ancestral lands; but the book centers on her personal struggle against alcohol abuse. Though life with her former husband Leonard Crow Dog brought his “half-breed” wife to her roots and to political activism, the couple grew antagonistic, and she took refuge in drink. Even during her 1991 book tour she went on binges; a suicide by an alcoholic friend finally led her to abstinence. She got married in 1991 and returned with her husband to the “res”–the reservation–in South Dakota.

Since her first book, Brave Bird has mellowed a bit, although she still makes caustic remarks about white women, especially New Agers whom she accuses of cashing in on traditional Indian religion. Sadly, her personal life seems as chaotic as ever, as she relates a horrifying story of chronic drunkenness, drug-taking, brawls, poverty, homeless shelters, and batterings by lovers. Readers willing to put up with the sordidness–which culminates in a drunk-driving crash and subsequent open-heart surgery for Brave Bird–will no doubt get the message: that Indians, Lakota in particular (Pine Ridge reservation is the poorest county in the nation), have been shoved to the bottom of the American barrel. Easier to digest are Brave Bird’s accounts of Native American rituals, including sweat lodges, spirit communication, and sun dances (during one, Brave Bird is suspended from a tree by thongs skewered through her back). Once again, the author presents a fierce feminist brief, offering biographical tributes to a number of Native American women and celebrating her own “womb power,” which brought her five kids– the last by her new husband, Rudi, a tattoo artist. Without the intrinsic excitement of the first installment, with its firsthand history of AIM and the siege at Wounded Knee; still, a forceful presentation of Native American life today.

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