Leonard Crow Dog

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Leonard Crow Dog
Born Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, United States
Nationality American
Citizenship United States
Occupation Author and Activist
Known for Wounded Knee
American Indian Movement
Board member of Sinte Gleska University
Spouse(s) Joann Roulette Crowdog[married] Francine (divorced)
Mary Brave Bird divorced
Children Ina Ione, Richard Lee, Bernadette, Shwanah, Tyler, Leonard Jr, Robert Pedro,Lisa,

Leonard Crow Dog (born 1942)[citation needed] 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.[1] As a practitioner of traditional herbal medicine and a leader of Sun Dance ceremonies, he is also dedicated to keeping Lakota traditions alive.


Leonard Crow Dog was born in 1942. Crow Dog is a descendant of a prestigious, 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.[citation needed]

American Indian Movement[edit]

In 1970 activist Dennis Banks met with Crow Dog, seeking a spiritual leader for the American Indian Movement (AIM), which had started among urban Indians in Minneapolis. Crow Dog had already been trying to unite people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation to organize and work together on issues affecting Indians. AIM organized the large march of the 1972 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 also led protests in Rapid City and the town of Custer, South Dakota to demand justice for hate crimes against the Lakota.

The atmosphere on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which borders Rosebud, became increasingly tense. Tribal chairman Dick Wilson, believed by opponents to have been fraudulently elected, had accrued much power. He created a personal police unit, known as the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), which was used to suppress political opposition. Residents of Pine Ridge who were tired of corruption in tribal government and mistreatment by whites gathered to protest. In 1973 the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge took over the village of Wounded Knee to demand justice from the federal government and an end to Wilson's tenure.

The takeover of Wounded Knee had special meaning for Crow Dog because his great-grandfather, Jerome Crow Dog, had been a Ghost Dancer. After receiving a vision, Jerome warned several dancers to stay away from a large gathering of tribes in 1890; he saved them from being victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre. When Leonard Crow Dog went to Wounded Knee in 1973, he was very moved and later 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."[citation needed]


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.

Personal life[edit]

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. Jancita 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.


In 1978, Leonard Crow Dog was part of The Longest Walk, from Washington DC to the Black Hills. I happened to be in South Dakota on other business and walked the last 20 miles. Crow Dog prophesied to a handful of us at the campfire on a chill night. He said, "the human beings have a few more years to stop tearing Mother Earth, or she will take herself back from us." After Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez, the Gulf Oil Spill and Fukushima Daichi, the human beings are still pursuing what's left of the planet's natural resources for profit. 38 years after he spoke, I continue to wonder whether that period of time constitutes "a few more years," and whether Mother Earth is not already taking herself back.

By Bill Homans, aka Watermelon Slim

Published works[edit]

  • Crow Dog, Leonard, and Richard Erdoes. Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men. New York: HarperCollins. 1995