As Women’s History Month winds to a close, Legends & Legacies contributor Susan Soper remembers American Indian activist and author Mary Brave Bird.
Mary Ellen Moore-Richard knew early on there were pieces of her past amiss and missing as she grew up on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Her mostly white dad left the family and her step-father taught her to drink at age 10. At a boarding school on the reservation, she was abused, taught to practice Christianity, and admonished not to use her native tongue. No wonder, then, that by the 1970s she had joined the American Indian Movement – AIM – an activist group that protested, sometimes violently, for Indian rights.
In 1973, two hundred Oglala Sioux and AIM activists took control of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to protest the tribal president’s alleged corruption and the failure of the U.S. government to honor its treaties with Native Americans. Moore-Richard – also known as Mary Brave Bird – was there with her husband Leonard Crow Dog, a leader of the movement’s efforts to restore Indian pride and justice. It was during the sometimes violent siege at Wounded Knee that Brave Bird gave birth to her first child, a son.
Mary Brave Bird (Photo via Indian Country Today Media Network)
Mary Brave Bird died on Valentine’s Day in Crystal Lake, Nevada, though she had been living on the Rosebud Reservation with her youngest children. She was just 58.
She will likely be best remembered for her 1990 book, Lakota Woman, which won the American Book Award. Written with Richard Erdoes, Brave Bird courageously relates the poverty, rape and racism of her childhood and the struggle to regain pride in her native culture.
In an interview in 1994 with the Los Angeles Times, she said AIM should be more appreciated by Native Americans. ‘‘Before AIM came, people didn’t have their long hair, people didn’t have their Indian pride,’’ she said. ‘‘Everybody was assimilated. These people still put AIM people down, but now they are having sun dances. Before, nobody did it because everybody was Catholic and nobody knew about the Indian ways until the AIM people came. Now they are a lot better off, but they still don’t recognize the movement.’’
The book was the basis for a 1994 movie, Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee produced by TNT and Jane Fonda.
Written by Susan Soper. Soper is the author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has been a reporter with Newsday, writer for CNN, and Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."