SuAnne Big Crow

This from the newsletter of Alan Jacobs today:

“In Ian Frazier’s book On the Rez — excerpted here — he tells a story about a Lakota Sioux girl named SuAnne Big Crow, who lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. At age 14 she was already on her high school’s varsity basketball team, and when, in 1988, they played a game in Lead, South Dakota, they were faced with a profoundly hostile crowd, a gym full of people making mocking “Indian” noises. The Pine Ridge girls were frightened — but SuAnne was not frightened. She led her team out and made her way to center court, where to the astonishment of everyone she used her warmup jacket to perform, with great élan and perfect confidence, a traditional Sioux shawl dance.

It was, Frazier says, a form of counting coup — but not in any usual sense.

SuAnne’s coup strike was an offering, an invitation. It gave the hecklers the best interpretation, as if their silly, mocking chants were meant only in good will. It showed that their fake Indian songs were just that — fake — and that the real thing was better, as real things usually are. We Lakota have been dancing like this for centuries, the dance said; we’ve been doing the shawl dance since long before you came, before you got on the boat in Glasgow or Bremerhaven, before you stole this land, and we’re still doing it today. And isn’t it pretty, when you see how it’s supposed to be done? Because finally what SuAnne proposed was to invite us — us onlookers in the stands, namely the non-Lakota rest of this country — to dance too. She was in the Lead gym to play, and she invited us all to play. The symbol she used to include us was the warm-up jacket. Everyone in America has a warm-up jacket. I’ve got one, probably so do you, so did (no doubt) many of the fans at Lead. By using the warm-up jacket as a shawl in her impromptu shawl dance, she made Lakota relatives of us all.

SuAnne Big Crow died in an auto accident at age seventeen, on February 9, 1992. She’s still a legend for the Sioux people. They made a movie about her.

Courage and leadership can be both confrontational and generous at the same time. Leadership can cause you to realize that you might be wrong (that you might even be acting shamefully) while inviting you to see another way.

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