Published on September 2, 2013 by Amy
Leonard Crow Dog is a Sicangu Lakota medicine man and spiritual leader who became well known during the takeover of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1973, known as the Wounded Knee Incident. Through his writings and teachings he has sought to unify Indian people of all nations. As a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine and a leader of Sun Dance ceremonies, he is also dedicated to keeping Lakota traditions alive.
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Leonard Crow Dog was born in 1945. Crow Dog is a descendant of a staunchly traditional family of medicine men and leaders. The name Crow Dog is a poor translation of Kangi Shunka Manitou (Crow Coyote). His great-grandfather, the first to have the family name, had coyote medicine and wolf power.
From the time Leonard Crow Dog was in the womb, his parents knew he would be a medicine man. His father chased off truant officers with a shotgun to keep him out of school, because acculturation into white society would have spoiled his training as a medicine man. He grew up working alongside his father: cutting timber for a living and putting on ceremonies over the weekend. Good Lance, another Crow Dog, began teaching him the ways of a medicine man from an early age. At the age of seven, Crow Dog was initiated by four medicine men. He did his first hanbleceya (vision quest) at the age of 13.
In 1970 Dennis Banks showed up at Crow Dog’s Paradise seeking a spiritual leader for the movement. Crow Dog had already been trying to unite people on the reservation to work together on issues that affect Indians. The American Indian Movement organized the Trail of Broken Treaties to Washington, D.C. to demand presidential attention to Indian issues. They campaigned on behalf of Indian veterans who were not getting the services they needed. Crow Dog led protests in Rapid City and the town of Custer to demand justice for hate crimes.
Meanwhile the atmosphere on the Pine Ridge reservation, which borders Rosebud, became increasingly tense. Tribal chairman Dick Wilson, who had been fraudulently elected, was terrorizing anyone who opposed him with a squad of thugs called the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs). Residents of Pine Ridge were tired of corruption in tribal government and mistreatment by whites that went unnoticed by the larger society. In 1973 the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge made a dramatic stand at the village of Wounded Knee to demand justice.
The takeover of Wounded Knee had special meaning for Crow Dog because his great-grandfather, Jerome Crow Dog, had been a ghost dancer. Jerome saved several dancers from the massacre at Wounded Knee after receiving a vision. Arriving at the site in 1973, Leonard Crow Dog said, “Standing on the hill where so many people were buried in a common grave, standing there in that cold darkness under the stars, I felt tears running down my face. I can’t describe what I felt. I heard the voices of the long-dead ghost dancers crying out to us”
Shortly after Wounded Knee, the federal government began prosecuting AIM leaders for various charges. One early September morning of 1975, 185 FBI officers, federal marshals, and SWAT teams showed up at Crow Dog’s Paradise looking for Leonard Peltier. Crow Dog was first taken to the maximum security unit at Leavenworth, and was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks. However, he was moved from one prison to another many times.
The National Council of Churches took up Crow Dog’s case and raised $150,000 for his appeal. Vine Deloria, Jr., was one of the attorneys involved on his behalf. However, his appeal was denied. When his defense team went before a judge to apply for a sentence reduction, there was a long table stacked with letters and petitions from all over the world in support of Crow Dog. Floored by the outpouring of support, the judge ordered that Crow Dog be immediately released. He had already served nearly two years of his sentence.
Crow Dog married his first wife, Francine, in the Native American Church and took the name Defends His Medicine in reference to the sacred peyote plant. Shortly after Wounded Knee, Crow Dog began his second marriage. He was married to Mary Ellen Moore, later known as Brave Bird, with a pipe ceremony. They lived at Crow Dog’s Paradise with Crow Dog’s parents, three children from his previous marriage, and Mary’s son, Pedro. His son, Leonard Alden Crow Dog, is an artist, spiritual Leader and Sundance Chief; Leonard Alden is also known as Yellow Coyote. Jacinta Eagle Deer was his step-daughter.
Leonard Crow Dog is the author of “Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men”. The book recounts family history through four generations of the Crow Dog family. The book details ghost dancers, a group who brought a “new way of praying, of relating to the spirits”; Jerome Crow Dog, Leonard Crow Dog’s great-grandfather, who was the first Native American to win a case in the Supreme Court in ex parte Crow Dog; Leonard’s father, Henry, who introduced peyote to the Lakota Sioux. Crow Dog also details Lakota tribal ceremonies and their meanings, the 1972 march on Washington and the siege of Wounded Knee in 1973.
Crow Dog, Leonard, and Richard Erdoes. Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men. New York: HarperCollins. 1995