"Strong Medicine speaks" A Native American elder has her say : an oral history

Amy Hill Hearth, 1958-

Book - 2008

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BIOGRAPHY/Strong Medicine
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New York, NY : Atria Books 2008.
Main Author
Amy Hill Hearth, 1958- (-)
Other Authors
Strong Medicine, 1922- (-)
1st Atria Books hardcover ed
Physical Description
xvii, 267 p. : ill., ports. ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references.
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part I. The Hidden People
  • Part II. In the Land of the Ancestors
  • Part III. The Boy on the Bicycle
  • Part IV. "I Am Sorry to Inform You..."
  • Part V. A "Working" Mother
  • Part VI. Changing Times
  • Part VII. A Woman's World
  • Part VIII. Native Pride
  • Part IX. Full Circle
  • Part X. Modern Life
  • Part XI. The Last Word
  • "Wanishi" ("Thank You")
  • Lenape Languages: A Brief Primer
  • Lenape Myths: A Sampling
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Credits and Permissions
Review by Booklist Review

The author of Having Our Say (1993), the moving story of two elderly African American sisters, here offers the history of the Lenni-Lenape tribe of southern New Jersey in the words of one of its elders, 84-year-old Strong Medicine. Intrigued by the discovery of a Lenni-Lenape ancestor in her own family, Hearth delves into the tribe's origins, with Strong Medicine, mother of the chief, providing information on tribal culture, the bigotry experienced by tribe members in the past, and ongoing efforts to preserve their culture by involving young people in traditional ceremonies. In chapters alternating between Strong Medicine's reminiscences and historical background provided by Hearth, the reader gains a sense of all that these tenacious survivors have been through for the last 400 years, since the arrival of white people in their secluded territory a familiar litany of displacement, confiscation of tribal lands, and the prejudice they experienced for being neither black nor white. The chronicle ends on a hopeful note as the tribe eschews gambling opportunities in favor of sustained efforts at cultural preservation.--Donovan, Deborah Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Hearth, best known for her oral history of the Delaney sisters Having Our Say, captures the voice of 83-year-old tribe matriarch Marion "Strong Medicine" Gould as she looks back on her life as a Lani Lenape Indian. A once- powerful tribe ranging across New Jersey and parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, the arrival of Europeans would eventually turn the Lenape into "a hidden people": says Gould, "We kept quiet in order to survive." With great care, Gould describes the challenges of 20th and 21st century Native Americans and her significant role in her southern New Jersey tribe's transforming way of life. In many ways, Native Americans' modern struggle is for a public identity, especially apparent during the civil rights movement: "[A]ll of a sudden, we aren't dark enough.... Indian was not black. We were totally left out in the cold." Gould locates the source of her strength and the tribe's--the Indian way--in the extended family, and suggests that many people's problems today stem from a lack of "kinfolk to lean on." Poignant moments of love and loss bookend the tale, and in between Hearth works almost invisibly to craft a graceful, sustained look into the quiet struggles of contemporary Native Americans. (Mar.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Review

Inspired by the discovery of a Lenni-Lenape ancestor, Hearth (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years) explores contemporary Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape history and culture through the life story of Marion "Strong Medicine" Gould. This fascinating account examines how Strong Medicine's multiethnic community, tied together by Lenni-Lenape ancestry, endeavored over decades to establish their sovereignty, which they formally asserted in 1978 with the incorporation of "The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey." Also included are accounts of how the community was affected by events such as World War II and the Native American civil rights movement. Unfortunately, the author continuously asserts that the Lenni-Lenape are a forgotten people whose peaceful attempts to coexist with the United States were rewarded with attempted genocide. In actuality, the Lenni-Lenape, or Delaware, valiantly and violently defended their sovereignty against the United States as long as they possibly could. Hearth's monograph is recommended for public libraries and should be read alongside Amy Schutt's Peoples of the River Valleys: The Odyssey of the Delaware Indians.--John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The centenarian Delany sisters' amanuensis (Having Our Say, 1997, etc.) acts as interlocutor for another tenacious woman of color. Marion "Strong Medicine" Gould is a member of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, the Native Americans who surrendered Manhattan Island for that fabled $24. The 84-year-old speaks candidly, without complaint, of her hardscrabble life in rural New Jersey, the region her people have inhabited for countless generations. Strong Medicine toiled successively at a Birds Eye factory (counting peas to be frozen), in a laundry (evading customers' bedbugs) and in a sewing factory (prevailing over racial prejudice). Life was good with husband Wilbur, a World War II hero, and their extended family. Other proud moms may brag of a doctor or lawyer, but few can boast, like Strong Medicine, of her son the Indian Chief. ("Indian" is a term she uses with pride throughout the book.) It was Chief Mark "Quiet Hawk" Gould who, adhering to the old traditions, gave his mother her Indian name when she was in her 50s; she agrees it's a good one. The matriarch is an avid cook, especially of succotash and macaroni and cheese. She discourses on homeopathic pharmacopoeia, evoking her heritage in herbal medicine. Her faith seems to be a Native American branch of Christianity, paying particular heed to the Creator. The Lenni-Lenape eschew easy wealth associated with gambling. Be helpful, watch the kids, respect the Elders and leave the important doings to the women: "It's the Indian way," says the Chief's mother. As she describes it, life in Hearth's Bridgeton, N.J., seems reminiscent of the rural idyll Thornton Wilder painted in Our Town. Maybe that's the point, for as Elder Strong Medicine says, "It's very pleasant to lead a simple life." Pertinent life lessons that go down easily. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 I was fourteen years old the first time I set eyes on my husband. I knew he was the man I was going to marry someday, and I did, when I was eighteen and he was twenty. I was born Marion Doris Purnell on April 25, 1922, but my Indian name is "Strong Medicine." I was given that name about thirty years ago because I know a thing or two about plants and herbs, and because it suits my personality -- or so I'm told. People have come to me for advice, all of my life. They know I will give it to 'em straight! I was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and I have lived nearly all my life here, on the same stretch of road. It's in the southern part of New Jersey, near the Delaware Bay. Most people don't even know this part of New Jersey exists. It's beautiful country, mostly farmland and marshes. When my husband and I were coming up, our tribe was in hiding. We were a hidden people. You wouldn't have been able to tell because we went about our lives like other people. We dressed like white people, we had "normal" jobs, we went to church. But we were Indian. Even today, you probably would not recognize us because we wear regular clothing, live in houses, drive cars, and eat the same kinds of foods you do. We do not live on a reservation, and only at Powwows and tribal gatherings, or for special occasions, do we put on our feather headdresses, beaded clothing, moccasins, and face paint in remembrance of early life. Of course, there are other differences. We live the Indian way, and always have. We have reverence for God and all living things. We are a very tight-knit group, and we help each other. We revere our children and our Elders. We don't live for the moment, the way many Americans do, and we are not as likely to be motivated by material things or by money. Integrity and honesty are extremely important to us. Many white people have a very rigid idea of who Indians are. There is no "typical" Indian any more than there is a "typical" black person or "typical" Jewish person. But when people think of Indians, they think of the stereotype of the Plains Indians, riding horses and hunting buffalo. You know, the guys who killed Custer. They think we all live on a reservation somewhere. Well, it's simply not so. It's not really their fault for thinking that, though. There are so few books out there that tell the true story of Indians. Some of it's our fault because we don't like to talk to outsiders, so it's hard for people to get good, firsthand information. As for the movies, well, I will share my opinion about that later. It's important that people understand that not all tribes are alike, nor do we look alike. Many of us, especially on the East Coast, have some ancestry other than Indian. That's because in the East we've been coexisting with white people -- and black people, too -- for almost four hundred years. My mother, for example, was Lenape with a little white blood. My father was Indian, too, on his mother's side, but he was also part black. His great-grandmother was a slave in Maryland. If you look at my family tree, it's very complicated in terms of race. But I'm more Lenape Indian than anything else. And that's how I was raised. My husband's name was Wilbert Gould, though most people knew him as "Wilbur Junior." His Indian name was "Wise Fox." He was Lenape but he had a small amount of white blood -- Irish. He had blue eyes! People will say to your face, "Well, you can't be Indian if you have blue eyes" or "So-and-so's not Indian. He looks black, so he must be black!" People can be downright rude about it. We're a little tired of people trying to tell us who we are. Another thing we hear all the time is, "But there aren't any Indians in New York and New Jersey." Or they'll say we are extinct. Mercy. Maybe they think there was no one living here but rabbits and squirrels before white people got here and "discovered" the land. The truth is, we've been killed off, moved around, and more or less treated very badly for four hundred years. What happened to another tribe -- the Cherokee -- is fairly well known. They were marched out west by U.S. soldiers to a reservation, and a lot of them died along the way. They called it the Trail of Tears. What most people don't realize is that this happened to a lot of tribes. It happened to my tribe. There's a story told in our tribe that the last trainload of Lenape were sent out west to a reservation in 1924, when I was two years old. So you see why we kept quiet. We kept quiet in order to survive. Being Indian was a secret, something you didn't talk about outside the family. If the government came around and asked questions, like when they did the census, the members of our tribe might not talk to them. Sometimes we would say we were "colored." That's a term they used in the old days for people who are not white. Well, the government workers were white and they didn't know what the heck we were. They thought we meant we were "black" when we said "colored." We let them think that. I tell you what, the United States census must be messed up, going way, way back, 'cause I'm pretty sure we aren't the only ones who did that. See, you were better off being black than Indian. The government didn't take your home and land and make you go out west to a reservation if you were black. But they did that to Indians. They did it all the time. Until four hundred years ago, when the white people came, Lenape land included Manhattan Island, New Jersey, and part of Pennsylvania, too, including Philadelphia. Hmmm. Maybe they should give it all back. Ha! Now, I think that's funny. That's my type of humor. Hey, you have to laugh at yourself and things that go on around you. There are plenty of things that can make you sad, crazy, or angry, so you better find ways to enjoy this life. That is the secret of living well.Copyright (c) 2008 by Amy Hill Hearth Excerpted from Strong Medicine Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say by Amy Hill Hearth All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.