Mary Ellen Moore-Richard; activist wrote of reservation life

A TV movie was based on Ms. Moore-Richard’s book.
Ulf Andersen/Getty Images/file 1997
A TV movie was based on Ms. Moore-Richard’s book.

NEW YORK — Mary Ellen Moore-Richard — who was a member of the American Indian Movement during its militant actions of the 1970s and who, under the name Mary Crow Dog, later wrote a well-received memoir, ‘‘Lakota Woman’’ — died Feb. 14 in Crystal Lake, Nev. She was 58.

Her death was announced by Rooks Funeral Chapel in Mission, S.D.

Ms. Moore-Richard grew up on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota in the late 1950s and ’60s. She was known over her life by several names, including Mary Brave Bird and Mary Crow Dog, a reflection of her complex family life and racial identity. Her father, Bill Moore, was of mostly white descent and left when she was a baby. She was sometimes mocked and called ‘‘iyeska,’’ half-breed, as a child.


‘‘Always I waited for the summer, for the prairie sun, the Badlands sun, to tan me and make me into a real skin,’’ she wrote in ‘‘Lakota Woman,’’ which was written with the journalist Richard Erdoes and published in 1990. In 1994, Jane Fonda Films produced a television movie for TNT based on the book.

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Ms. Moore-Richard wrote that her stepfather had taught her to drink when she was 10.

‘‘The little settlements we lived in . . . were places without hope where bodies and souls were being destroyed bit by bit,’’ she wrote. ‘‘Schools left many of us almost illiterate. We were not taught any skills. The land was leased to white ranchers. Jobs were almost nonexistent on the reservation, and outside the res, whites did not hire Indians if they could help it.’’

She attended the St. Francis Boarding School on the reservation and, like generations of American Indians, was instructed to practice Christianity and not to speak her native Sioux language. As a teenager, she published a newspaper describing abuse and misconduct at the school, and the school, run by Roman Catholic priests and nuns, punished her, she said. Some of her school experiences are ­described in a chapter of her book called ‘‘Civilize Them With a Stick.’’

By her late teens, Ms. Moore-Richard had joined the American Indian Movement, also known as AIM, a sometimes violent civil rights group that led well-publicized protests, including one in which demonstrators occupied the offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington in 1972.


Ms. Moore-Richard, who married one of the group’s leaders, Leonard Crow Dog, gave birth to their first child during AIM’s violent two-month occupation of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which began in February 1973.

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.’’