Strong Medicine Speaks is more of a narrative than a memoir, but I’m counting it for Memoir Monday because it is her memory of her life. As opposed to the few other narratives I’ve included over the years, Strong Medicine herself can read and write. Hearth asked to be able to record Strong Medicine’s life as she recalled it and Strong Medicine agreed. Because of this, the book actually opens with the history of Hearth’s relationship to the Lenape tribe and to Strong Medicine.
When Strong Medicine’s story is continuously surprising. While it makes sense that some Indians would attempt to hide and continue living on their ancestral lands, reports of success are not exactly something one hears much about. That said, it should have been more obvious that this is something that happened after I spent six months living near the Pequot tribes in Connecticut and visiting their beautiful museum and casinos (I’m not a gambling fan but there is so much more in those casinos than gambling and the Mohegan Sun might be the most beautiful building I’ve ever been in). It never occurred to me what they may have had to do to stay where they were or gain recognition in the years since the US was massacring them.
I did have an idea from other reading and some museums I had visited that things had not always been as open as they are now with the Native Americans. Even now, we can do so much better, but I had no idea how bad it has been in living memory. As a kid, I had assumed the worst was over after they had been sent to the reservations. After reading An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, I had realized my error, but even then, I didn’t know that there was KKK in the north targeting them in the 1960’s still.
Strong Medicine’s story covers hiding from the US census to not be transferred to reservations, World War II, the KKK, and then working towards recognition as a tribe by the state and federal governments and reclaiming their culture. It’s all pretty amazing and I am grateful that she shared her story. This is exactly the kind of history we need to preserve along with the rest of the road to recovery for the Native Americans. Seriously, we’ll never be able to reconcile what was done to them, along with those whose ancestors were brought to this country as slaves, but we should be able to help them bring their culture back to where it should have always stayed and we absolutely have to become honest about what was done to them all these years.
Throughout the book, Hearth gives some history about what was happening in the US or in the tribe that may have affected Strong Medicine’s life but that she wasn’t involved in to give context to the flow of changes in life. One amazing point that Strong Medicine makes in the book is that the Lenape people have been on this land for ten thousand years. The US has been here for less than one, even if you count the first settlers. This era of oppression is not their history, their history is so much more than this. I think we would all do well to remember that of all indigenous people in the Americas and the world over.
I borrowed Strong Medicine Speaks from Scribd but it’s also available in other formats from several vendors. Add it to Goodreads and check it out sometime. It’s Native American Heritage Month in the US and there’s no better time to do some reading on the lives of Native Americans or visit one of the museums they’ve created to honor their history. I have visited and recommend both the Pequot Museum in Connecticut and the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. to anyone who happens to be near enough to them. I’d love to hear about more great books about Native American memoir and Native American museums in the comments if anyone has suggestions!