The American Indian Quarterly 24.3 (2000) 482-493
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A Conversation With Mary Brave Bird
Interviewed by Christopher Wise and R. Todd Wise
Preface by C. W.
I did not learn until two hours before her speech that Mary Brave Bird would not be coming to the Sisters of Color conference in Bellingham. We were told only that Mary could not get a ride from Rosebud to the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota. At the last minute, Kate Trueblood arranged to have the Micmac poet Gail Tremblay read from her work, as well as from a chapter of Lakota Woman. Tremblay performed superbly, which lessened our disappointment. Audience members, especially those unfamiliar with Brave Bird's writings, were visibly moved, and the opening session was a success. Still, my own disappointment remained. This was, in part, because I had seen the regenerative effect of Brave Bird's writings upon my students at Western Washington. Luckily, the academic quarter neared completion, and I had a couple of weeks to drive out to South Dakota. I phoned my brother, R. Todd Wise, who lives in Sioux Falls and who teaches Native American Studies at the University of Sioux Falls. Todd agreed to drive out to Rosebud with me, to see if we couldn't find Brave Bird. I phoned Mary's mother, who seemed to think she would go along with the interview, but she warned us that Mary had just gotten out of the hospital and was on medication. Mary herself did not have a phone, so there was no way to confirm with her directly. On 19 June 1998, we drove the five hours or so from Sioux Falls to Rosebud, planning to ask around until we found Mary's place.
We found it without too much difficulty, a trailer structure on a three-to-five-acre spread. Her house sat alongside a muddy creek and was surrounded by trees and heavy brush. There was a broken satellite dish in front, where a bird had built its nest, and piles of wood chips everywhere. Mary pulled in behind us in a beat-up, red pickup. Her two kids, Summer Rose and Rudi, spilled out of the truck cab and ran toward us in curiosity. I told Mary who we were. She looked us over for a moment and then invited us inside. I could not tell she was on medication, though Todd mentioned later that her hands were slightly trembling. To me, she seemed only tired, listless. [End Page 482]
In the living room, she sat heavily in her favorite chair and lit a cigarette. We listened for a moment to the Rolling Stones on her radio, which played continuously. I noticed at once a framed poster of Jim Morrison, arms extended in a Christ-like pose, in which Mary had inserted several smaller photographs, along the edges of the frame. The photos were mostly of her children--Pedro, for instance, who was now in prison. I told her I was a Doors fan, and we talked about her brief role in the Oliver Stone film. She told me she could hear an Oklahoma accent in my voice. "I'm here all alone," she said. "Rudi split, but it's all right. I got some beautiful children out of it." She pointed around to the concrete floors and loose plywood. "I'm fixin' up the house by myself. It needs work, but it's paid for." She asked if we wanted to take a tour. Her kids showed us around outside, the creek and their secret hiding place, a sandpit filled with toys. It was a nice spot, very quiet with beautiful skies overhead. Back inside, Summer Rose, an affectionate seven-year-old, told her mother, "We showed them our secret hiding place."
"Well, it's not a secret now," Mary said. Summer Rose brought out a photo album and sat beside me on the couch. Mary's boy Rudi wore a long, black braid. He was as pretty as his older sister. When she...