Mary Crow Dog’s autobiography, Lakota Woman, is an explicit tale of what life was like during the 1960s and 70s on one of America’s most famous Indian reservations. Mary’s tale is full of heart-wrenching drama that is, at times, poignantly marked by her unrelenting will. Mary has lived through some of the most harrowing ordeals and come out on the other side a better person. Although she has seen numerous friends and family members die at the hands of the white man, Mary continues to struggle to make a life for herself and her family in the white man’s world.
Chapter 1 introduces the novel’s central character, Mary Brave Bird. Mary Brave Bird speaks in the first person about her life as Part of the Lakota tribe. Her introduction to the world of Indian life at the time of her young adulthood is best summed up by her statement: “If you plan to be born, make sure you are born white and male”. Spending a considerable amount of chapter 1 discussing the hardships that she has suffered, Mary Brave Bird reveals that when it comes to Indian life, there was noting harder than being an Indian woman.
The events that Mary chronicles are experiences that most of us will never be subjected to. For instance, she watched as her first born was taken from her by the white man, she dealt with her sister’s pain at being unwillingly sterilized, and she has witnessed numerous of her friends and family members die, by being murdered, senselessly at the hands of the white man. Despite all of these hardships, she notes that her greatest challenge as a Lakota woman is the fight for her land, the land that has been the core of her family’s existence for more than 200 years.
In chapter 2, Mary Brave Bird looks more closely at her childhood. She reveals that her biological father was part Indian, but mostly white, and originally served in the navy. However, once her mother got pregnant with Mary, her father promptly left. To make ends meet, Mary’s mother trained as a nurse, but the only job she could find was 100 miles away. Because she had no car, Mary’s mother left Mary and her siblings in the care of her grandparents. When Mary was 9 or 10, her mother remarried, but Mary did not like her stepfather. As a result Mary became rebellious and was seldom at home. The most compelling story that Mary tells in the second chapter is her experience with racism when she was in third grade. Mary did not realize that she was different, nor did she realize that she was poor. The chapter ends foreshadowing Mary’s negative experiences in boarding school.