Strong Medicine Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say
A rare oral history of a contemporary Native American matriarch. Published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster/Atria Books.
"A graceful, sustained look into the quiet struggles of contemporary Native Americans." - Publisher's Weekly
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 and not on a reservation. 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. They are often erroneously thought to be extinct, a result of hiding their identity in order to be left alone. (Author's note: Strong Medicine died in 2016 at the age of 94. She is buried alongside her husband in Cumberland County, N.J.)
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."
Study Guide by Kim Kotzky Oliva.
1.) 'Strong Medicine' was the Indian name given to Marion about 30 years ago. What personality traits might be required to live up to such a name? What does this name immediately make you speculate about her?
2.) "Hey, you have to laugh at yourself and things that go on around you." With this quote, what do you think Strong Medicine implies?
1.) Does it seem surprising that women are, and have always been, powerful figures in the Lenape tribe? Why or why not?
2.) "Indians are thinking about the future while everybody else today is living for the moment." Which way of life do you believe is more sensible?
1.) Do you agree with Strong Medicine's reasoning for belief in ghosts or do you think ghosts are fictional?
2.) Explain why Strong Medicine decides to stop judging people "by the color of their skin or anything else" and if you too have experienced a similar situation.
3.) "I'm not going to judge people, Indian or black, who passed for white, because their lives were so much more pleasant as white people. I can't say I admire it but I don't think you can put people down for it." How do you feel about this? Do you think this is still somewhat true today?
4.) How does Strong Medicine's grandmother's advice tie in to the Lenape way of life?
1.) Can you relate to Strong Medicine's description of her life at home while growing up? How?
2.) "...something people don't understand about Indians. We're not relics in a museum. We are living in the same world as you are." What image do you, personally, have when Indians are mentioned? Is it different after reading this quote?
3.) Strong Medicine expresses that although it was hard growing up, it was a good life. Is it difficult to imagine being upbeat about the situation she describes, or do you understand her point of view?
1.) How would you react if someone treated you the way Strong Medicine was treated and told you you weren't good enough to speak to them?
2.) Chapter 5 ends with the question, "Aren't we all supposed to be equal?" Give two examples of situations, currently, where we are not all treated equally and explain how you think that could improve.
1.) What does Strong Medicine mean when she says she could lose herself in books? If not books, what do you rely on to "lose yourself?"
2.) "When you're a kid, you think that what you see around you is normal. You don't necessarily question it." What does this say about children and the importance of the examples set for them?
1.) Does Strong Medicine's story about Wilbur sound like "love at first sight" to you?
2.) Strong Medicine's values are made clear -- love, health and happiness. Do you agree that these things are more important than a big house and English china? What makes your life worthwhile?
3.) "When you're young, you get upset about the dumbest things." Why do you think this is?
1.) How would you feel if your husband was drafted into the war and you were left behind with two young boys, as Strong Medicine was?
2.) Why did Strong Medicine keep the telegram that informed her that her husband was alive?
1.) "You laugh 'til you cry, that's all I can say." What does this quote mean to you?
2.) If you were Wilbur, would you want to talk about the war upon returning, or keep quiet about it?
1.) Imagine growing up in constant fear of the Klan because you were "different." How easy do you think it is to be open-minded and accepting of white people as an adult after experiencing that?
2.) How does the treatment of people of color qualify as terrorism?
1.) Do you know a lot of people who would do what Strong Medicine did for that mother in tears?
2.) "Always stand up to a bully -- that's my philosophy." How does this compare to your philosophy? Do you agree or disagree with Strong Medicine?
1.) Strong Medicine's boys were raised surrounded by many of their family members living all on one stretch of road. How do you think this impacts their family's sense of togetherness?
2.) Can you relate to the stories Strong Medicine tells of her children and her perspective as a parent?
1.) "I sometimes wonder where white people got the idea they're above everyone else." Where do you believe this idea came from?
2.) What do you think Strong Medicine means when she calls the Lenape "a hidden people?"
1.) "I think it took me at least two years to get over it, to the extent you ever get over it." What does Strong Medicine mean by this?
2.) What do you think Boyer's reason was to start studying accounting although he knew how ill he was?
1.) "They'd come up to me and say, 'Mrs. Gould, can I talk to you?' and I'd say, 'What's wrong? What kind of problem have you got today?' They just needed someone to listen to them. And I loved being there for them." What does this say about Strong Medicine as a person? Do you have a person, or people, in your life that you can go to like this?
2.) Do you feel like you change a lot to adapt to the world constantly moving around you, but deep down try to stick to your roots?
1.) "I believe a woman can be feminine and still be strong. I don't think the two things contradict each other." Do you agree with Strong Medicine? How so?
2.) What does this chapter's stories and messages enforce about Strong Medicine's character?
1.) Why do you think Strong Medicine made such a good boss for the
2.) "Because I grew up as a Lenape woman, I really didn't think
there was any job I couldn't do." What does Strong Medicine mean by this?
1.) What Hollywood image does Strong Medicine refer to? Describe.
2.) "The first hurdle is refusing to accept how someone else defines you. When you've heard you're nothing for a long, long time, and you don't deserve to have rights then after a while you start to believe it. And it becomes part of who you are." Can you relate to this from your own personal experience?
1.) How do you think Strong Medicine is worried she will feel if she visits a Lenape reservation?
2.) "I don't think you can be Indian and feel all warm and fuzzy about the federal government, unless you have amnesia." Do you think this is a fair thing for Strong Medicine to say? Why, or why not?
1.) "We have come full circle in my lifetime." What does Strong Medicine mean by "full circle?"
2.) What does the 28 acres the Lenape purchased symbolize for the tribe?
1.) What Indian name do you think might be given to you? Why?
2.) After having read to this point, do you agree that Strong Medicine is an appropriate name for Marion?
1.) "But this is life! It's part of living. You can't control things. You have to accept what happens." Have you ever had trouble accepting something occurring in your life? How did you cope with it?
1.) "It's too bad that people can't be people without looking at skin color, or where you live, how you talk, things like that." What does Strong Medicine mean?
2.) After all the negative things Strong Medicine mentions throughout this chapter, is it surprising she ends by saying "Sometimes all you can do is laugh"? Why or why not?
1.) If brand-new cars and great big houses aren't what is important for the future and future generations, what do you think Strong Medicine thinks is important?
2.) "Why should I change?" Can you think of any reasons why Strong Medicine should change, or do you agree with her that it is her choice?
1.) Did you have any idea that these plants and weeds served all these wonderful purposes? Are you aware of any other natural remedies?
1.) "When you've known somebody that long, you don't have to talk." What does Strong Medicine suggest? Do you feel this way with any of your family or friends?
2.) Why do you think it was so important to Strong Medicine for Wilbur to die at home?
1.) "I'm an optimistic person, and I think if you keep trying, there is always a way to dig out of whatever problem you have." Do you consider yourself optimistic or pessimistic, and do you agree with Strong Medicine's statement about life?
2.) Strong Medicine says she wouldn't change her life for anything in this world. How easy do you think it is to be truly satisfied with every part of your life and retain a positive outlook until the very
end? How do you hope to achieve this in your lifetime?
Copyright 2008 A.H Hearth