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“STRONG MEDICINE” SPEAKS by Amy Hill  Hearth

“STRONG MEDICINE” SPEAKS

A Native American Elder Has Her Say: An Oral History

By Amy Hill Hearth

Pub Date: March 18th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9779-0
Publisher: Atria

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.