I have read Harjo much of my life and share a strong tie to NM and UNM with her. This memoir has a delicacy and unpretentiousness to it that is refreshing, along with the use of Native constructs (four directions, the line between what whites call "Fact" and "Fiction") to tell her story. The section on Santa Fe and her time there serves also as an interesting social history of that town, that school, at that time. The beatings, the abuse, the racism, the sexism - none of this surprises me and I have had my own share. But the story needs telling, over and over. Our humanity needs reaffirming, over and over. Harjo accomplishes this and much more.
I very much enjoyed reading this beautifully written memoir. It presents honestly and frankly the dangers that young women face in growing to maturity, especially for a woman coming from a troubled family of mixed ethnicity. Joy dives into life, and out of love at times gets herself into dangerous situations which seem to offer no way out, but "a knowing" helps her along her path and she is able to find her way and "release her fear" of change. I'm not Indian, and could be wrong about the "knowing" she speaks of, but to me it seems like an intuitional conscience that is in part ancestors speaking through us, guiding and guarding us. I was greatly moved by the concept of ancestors moving in and around us from reading African literature. People made fun of me if I talked of it because it was not part of my culture, but being married to a Japanese woman has confirmed in me something that is sadly lost in Western culture. Thanks, Joy, for this strong hearted book. I can see a second volume to it maybe in another 5-10 years.
I was so inspired by her poetry and this first novel. I delighted in it and felt determined to continue to remain grounded in my traditions and beliefs. My Ashanti worldview and her Crew worldview had some similarities, especially when she wrote about her dreams and described her observations when she was not yet in this world.
Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave, is a poignant and artistic memoir that provides readers with both lyrical and poetic lines and also recollections of historical substance. She combines beauty and truth in an elegant and effective way. Instead of dry, historical text, Harjo touches on difficult subjects such as Native American oppression, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and the feminist movement through her poetry and a first person account in a gentle tone, making these broad and daunting subjects pliable and relatable. She handles the idea of feminism and the oppression she faced as a Native female with particular grace. It is in her soft words that readers are led to the conclusion that Native American women were left behind in the feminist movement. Harjo depicts the trials of being both female and Native American and how the combination of the two was set aside and disregarded. Growing up with an Alcoholic father and step father, Harjo experienced alcoholism and domestic abuse at a young age. The two male figures in her young life would get drunk and abuse her mother, her and her siblings. Alcoholism, being prevalent in Native American communities, the living situation Harjo grew up in was more or less common and therefore, looked over. There was no help for women in these types of situations as Harjo explains, “There were no safe houses or domestic abuse shelters then, especially for native women. We weren’t supposed to be talking about personal difficulties when our peoples were laying down their lives for the cause” (158). The growing grimness of the lives of Native women was being looked over due to larger and “more important” social movements such as Native rights, Civil Rights, and (White) Women’s rights. She speaks of the issues of domestic violence due to alcohol throughout the book, as it follows her into her own relationships. It is not until a self-realization made through creative outlets that she triumphs over this issue on her own. Though Harjo solved her own personal problem, many Native women were left to face the battle of domestic violence without the help of an empowering movement that so many other minority groups had. Another issue specific to females that Harjo touches on is forced sterilization. She recounts, “During my last visit to the clinic at the Indian hospital I was given the option of being sterilized. It was explained to me that the moment of birth was the best time. I was handed the form but chose not to sign…Many Indian women who weren’t fluent in English signed, thinking it was a form giving consent for the doctor to deliver their baby. Others were sterilized without even the formality of signing” (Harjo 121). This was a widespread issue at the time and unfortunately, happening to many Native women that could not speak English. Forced sterilization took place in the 1970’s among other poor cultures as well, such as Puerto Ricans, Blacks, and Chicanos, but Native women were unique in their reliance on government aide explains Torpy, a writer for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal, “[Native] women were especially accessible victims due to several unique cultural and societal realities setting them apart from other minorities. Tribal dependence on the federal government through the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) robbed them of their children and jeopardized their future as sovereign nations” (1). This huge and vile issue, like domestic violence, was overshadowed by larger movements at the time, even movements pertaining to Natives. Being both Native and a woman in the 1970’s was being at the utmost disadvantage. These women did not fit in with the women fighting for gender equality because they were Native American, not white. They did not fit in for the Native American’s fighting for rights because they were women, regarded as lesser. They were left behind in the two social movements that should have worked at empowering them, but instead, left them to fend for themselves. Surely not all Native American women at this time were able to gain strength and rebuild themselves as Harjo did. We are given an opportunity to read and see her creative talent. Her writing style is unique, dreamlike, and immensely expressive. Harjo used her artistic talents to make her own movement. It was through her poetry and art that she found her voice and was able to gain a self-assuredness that others were gaining through demonstrations and protest. Harjo’s memoir brings voice to those who were left behind. She brings awareness to the many social wrongs that these women faced and though her memoir recounts a past, the resurfacing of the hurt and injustices pays respect to the many women that went unspoken for.
Works Cited Harjo, Joy. Crazy Brave: A Memoir. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. Print. Torpy, Sally J. "Native American Women And Coerced Sterilization: On The Trail Of Tears In The 1970S." American Indian Culture & Research Journal 24.2 (2000): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Joy Harjo's mother gave her a fitting name. Her gift of insight is truly a joy to others. Joy Harjo is an insightful gifted woman, her memoir is beautifully written. A multi talented artist, in written language and poetry. A visual artist, actor, and musician.
Joy Harjo's magical memoir. Hard to be a witness to her early life at times, but worth it. She reminds you of those childhood voyages in imagination you used to take to explain all of those inexplicable things in your life that you had no other power over.
A beautiful coming of age story by an American treasure. Ms. Harjo paints a story about resilience, fortitude, forgiveness, family and the gift of creativity. I gave away my copy to a young Zuni adolescent girl who is struggling with some of the same things: family dysfunction, alchohol and drugs, and a world that's mostly blind to her pain. Like Ms. Harjo she is gifted with a superb intelligence and is an amazingly talented artist. I hope she reads this book, is inspired, and is able to surmount the many obstacles she faces including being placed in foster care. Bless her and all of our First Nation teens. Thank you Ms. Harjo.