Lakota Woman Written by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes.
Published by Harper Perenial, 1991 -Reviewed by Will Nicholls This is the story of a Lakota woman, hence the title, who started life as Mary Brave Bird.
She was born into a reservation world that Crees know well. When she was born there was no electricity, running water, indoor toilets or other such basics of the 20th century found outside of reservation life in the late sixties and seventies. The Sioux, like the Cree, had strong family ties that allowed them to overcome these apparent difficulties. But progress brought something else in the form of alcohol and violence amidst a corrupt band council and reserve police on the Pine Ridge Reserve.
This book looks at the events leading up and beyond Wounded Knee and the incarceration of Leonard Peltier.
You find that Brave Bird, who would become Mary Crow Dog, was a good friend of Anna Mae, a Micmac woman who lost her life in mysterious circumstances.
The book makes both Peltier and Anna Mae more than symbols, it makes them people that you understand and sympathize with.
It is a moving story of a woman, who had her child under gunfire during the Wounded Knee siege, that has gone on to create a better life from the start she was given.
It is a book I would recommend to anyone who needs to know that there are always second chances if you only work for it. It is a story you will find uplifting.
Black Elk Speaks Out -reviewed by Neil Diamond I’ve read a lot of books. I read so many there’s some I’ve read twice, thrice even. There is so much great writing to be read today there aren’t many books you can read twice.
I first read Black Elk Speaks before I understood much of. what I was reading. There’s still, I found, sections I don’t understand. I’ll have to attempt a third reading after it’s returned by someone who still hasn’t returned the last book I loaned him.
John G. Neihardt’s Black Elks Speaks was once referred to as The Bible of Native American spirituality. It tells the story and philosophy of a Lakota visionary, warrior, healer and actor, Nicholas Black Elk.
Black Elk was bom in the year 1863 when the Sioux still roamed free on the American Plains. He lived to see the passing of a way of life and witness the new harsher reality on a reservation.
Despite that. Black Elk led a full life. He toured the Old World with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and met Queen Victoria. He was also a cousin of Crazy Horse. He recalls sitting at his feet listening to him tell their legends. As a young boy he witnessed the battle of the Little Big Horn where Custer’s 7th Cavalry was “massacred.” He was still very young when he started having visions. Much of the book recalls what he saw in the “Outer World.” Black Elk tells of a journey to see the “Grandfathers” who show him the fate of his people.
The seriousness of some sections of the book is broken up by everyday stories of Sioux life and also one hysterical story of young High Horse trying to find a wife.
It’s the kind of book that can make you laugh and cry.
Black Elk was first published in 1932. It has been reissued five times since then. It was particularly popular with hippies and other wannabes in the 60’s.
Nicholas Black Elk died in 1950.
Medicine That Walks by Maureen K. Lux.
Published by University of Toronto Press, 2001 -Will Nicholls This book looks at disease, medicine and the Plains Natives from 1880-1940. It has all the statistics you might want and more. A quote I like is from the beginning of the book: “From the Treaty they took everything away, the diet, the way of life; all that was put on the earth by the Great Spirit. The new diet made the people weaker. ” It was almost the same thing one of the Elders in Mistissini told me. After I had gone on a Wellness Journey I commented to Evadney Gunner that my stomach hadn’t bothered me the entire trip. She told me that it was because I was eating too much of the white man’s food and that my body had grown up with country or wild food. She said that I needed to eat it more to be healthy. An interesting concept that was arrived at by two different people across the country from each other.
This book talks about that balance and shows the racism that said Natives were responsible for their own bad health with dietary changes. It talks about the biological invasion accompanied by military, economic and cultural invasions with forced settlement on small reserves.
Well, it says a lot more than that but you’ll have to get this book to see it. It is more than just a reference book, it is an integral part of First Nations history.
A Visit in Time: Ancient Places, Archaeology and Stories from the Elders of Wemindi.
by David Denton review by Will Nicholls I asked David Denton to sum up this book in a couple of sentences. His reply was,
“This is an absolutely fantastic book. Buy it for yourself, buy it for your grandparents, by it for your kids, and get two copies for your dog. ” My brother once told me that Native Peoples don’t really have an oral history. He said that the history is written on the pages of the land. That if you went some place with an Elder he or she would say that something happened in this place or not to point to that island and why.
That’s why a book like this one is important. We talk about the disappearing of our Elders. This is not true as there are Elders coming into existence everyday but in reality we are losing that generation of Elders who knew no residential school and lived only in the bush. They are the storytellers and the keepers of Cree history. That in a nutshell is what makes this book important. This book is about places that mark the history of the Wemindji Iyiyuuch. It tells their stories of these places and of historical figures associated with them. It tells part of the Wemindji peoples’ story using three different sources of information: archaeology, oral traditions and historical records. The Elders played a big part, sharing stories and identifying interesting sites for exploration.
So, as David Denton said, “This is an absolutely fantastic book. Buy it for yourself, buy it for your grandparents, by it for your kids, and get two copies for your dog.” Hopefully more Cree bands will follow the Wemindji example.