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Lakota Woman

(response paper)

Chara D. Hoskins
INCS 331

Note: I did not finish reading the entire book. I got through Ch. 13 (at least part of it).

It was very hard for me to get through this book. It was hard to see what people
have done in the name of so-called “Christianization” and “whitemanizing.” I could not
believe how fellow human beings were equated with animals. Their culture and their
homeland were forcefully stripped away from them on the basis of their ethnicity. When
these things were taken from them, some of them gave into senseless things in order to
ease the pain. The author does a very good job of describing these events with images
and humor throughout the book.
The first thing that the author says about being surrounded by an “alien, more
powerful culture (5)” is: “If you plan to be born, make sure you are born white and male
(4).” This is because she and the other female Native Americans around her were raped
and beaten so many times for being “Injuns.” She was hated because of how she looked
when she was born. I would want to change what I looked like too if that were the case
for me. I am amazed at how she continued to progress in her life without turning into an
“apple” that is white on the outside and red on the inside (borrowed metaphor from the
Before the men around her had their dignity taken away, they were “generous and
wise.” They gave into senseless fighting, drinking, and drugs when the familiar things
were no more. They no longer killed innocent animals with bows and arrows. They
harmed each other in order to get their so-called honor, because they could no longer
attain it in the traditional manner. They also left their beliefs behind because they were
labeled as mere superstitions by “the white man.” Unlike Mary, they became a mixture
of red and white. They wanted to have their Native American culture and beliefs, but
they could not have them according to the overpowering white culture, so they threw in
the towel and lost all self-respect. It would take a very long road for them to recover
from such a thing, as it would for all human beings.
Amidst the majority of the tribes losing their culture and their traditions, the Crow
Dogs held onto theirs. They had the guts to “keep the flame alive” through “courage and
suffering (10).” The author realizes that she and the other tribes cannot simply sit on
their accomplishments. They must set out to “make [their] own legends (11).” When I
read this, I was amazed that she could think about going out and making legends at such a
time in her life. She and her people were being treated like dirt, but she knew they must
not equate themselves with dirt. She was able to see this even as the bodies and souls of
her people were being destroyed “bit by bit” (15).
Before Mary went to boarding school, she did not even experience this hatred at
all. She lived a simple life in He-Dog. She appreciated the fact that she did not have a
TV, because she recognized that it brainwashes people and makes them forget where they
came from. She did not see herself as being poor, because she had no visible riches to
compare her life to. People only become discontent with what they have when one
culture tries to make the simple life of another culture complicated. She had “food, love,
a place to sleep (27),” etc. She did not know that how the white men would treat her and
her people would make her have a longing for deeper things: respect, courage, food,
safety, etc.
When Mary and other Native Americans went to the St. Francis boarding school
they truly experienced the “whitemanizing” and racism. All of them were beaten horribly
for the smallest offenses. Sexual molestation was common. They would be put into
isolation for the smallest misdeeds. They were told that they could not look like Native
Americans, practice their beliefs, or be generous. All of these things were done in the
name of “civilizing” these people through a form of “ethnic cleansing.” I am glad we
serve a patient God, because these deeds were simply horrible.
The ideas of The Red Panther when Mary was at boarding school and the many
revolutions done at Washington D.C., Custer, and Wounded Knee demonstrated the
courage and perseverance of these people. They continued to fight no matter how
unjustly they were treated in boarding school or in public society. Their souls felt back
into a corner at times, but they did not allow their culture to be put in that position. They
revived the Ghost Dances, the Sun Dance ritual, etc. They were willing to die in order to
defend where they came from and their land. Like Mary says on pg. 105, “A faith you
have suffered for becomes more precious.”
A key part of the Native Americans defending themselves in the different cities
was through forming a unity among many tribes. This occurred through organizations
like AIM. They saw their overall identity as being the main important thing. The old and
they young were equally valued, though the “old folks” were seen as the ones who had
“spirit and wisdom” to give to the rest of the people (79). I appreciated how they shared
their different customs with each other in this unity. They even dialogued with African-
Americans about their struggles with racism at one point. I loved how, when one of them
was injured, the whole “body” of them hurt. I wish the Christian church today could
mirror this kind of unity.
Even though they strived for unity, they still struggled with prejudices at times
against other tribes. For example, Mary admits that she had a “typical Sioux prejudice”
against all of the “southern tribes (105).” She knows she is a human being and admits her
faults. However, not longer after she meets these tribes, she realizes that they had a
special strength which her people lacked. This attitude of learning and observation about
those around them helped her people overcome great obstacles together. Also, when
people had difficulties within their tribes about accepting “outsiders,” they would talk
these struggles out (just as Leonard did for Mary).
In conclusion, the past of the Native American Indians in our country was a very
difficult one. There was a constant battle against the white man that had a faith solely in
“naked power, numbers, and paragraphs (141).” There were times when the people lost
their hope that a better time would come, but they did not let their “hearts be on the floor”
and pressed on in order to defend their culture, their land, and their religion. They
overcame great obstacles of horrible racism, oppression, unjust arrests, etc. through unity.
There is a great deal that can be learned from these people when it comes to
perseverance, unity, courage, and respecting one’s elders.