Strong Medicine Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say (New York: Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2008)
A rare oral history of a female Native American Elder
Marion "Strong Medicine" Gould, the 85 year old mother of a Lenni-Lenape Chief, shares her life story, opinions, and historical perspective in this groundbreaking oral history. The book is a rare look, from the inside, of contemporary Native American life. At the same time, the book tells the story of the tribe, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation of Bridgeton, New Jersey near the Delaware Bay, the largest and most vibrant group of Lenape (sometimes called Delaware Indians) still living on Ancestral Lands. The Lenape were the original inhabitants of an area that includes Manhattan, all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania including what is now Philadelphia, and parts of Maryland. They are what is known as "a nation of first contact," meaning that they encountered Europeans four centuries ago. Often mistakenly believed to be extinct, the tribe's declaration - and message in the book - is "We are still here!"
March 31, 2008
"Hearth, best known for her oral history of the Delany 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 Lenni-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."
"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."
December 15, 2007
"The centenarian Delany sisters' amanuensis (Having Our Say, 1993, 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."