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No reservations: Mary Black Bonnet

Confronting a difficult childhood through poetry



Mary Black Bonnet always knew she was different; it was apparent every day, in her own home.

Black Bonnet, a Lakota Indian child, grew up with an adoptive Anglo family in North Dakota. Social workers had taken her from her biological family when she was 2 years old, because her mother was an alcoholic. The Anglo family that adopted her and her older sister, Black Bonnet says, was abusive.

Her feelings from the childhood that followed stay alive in her poetry, which she'll read as part of Bently Spang's ongoing Cyberskins exhibit about the present and future Native American identity.

Black Bonnet says that miles off the reservation, and without direction, she accumulated Anglo images of Native Americans, like an Indian maiden, a wolf or warriors. Those images, explains Black Bonnet, "aren't representative of the modern Indian." But she doesn't apologize for collecting them.

"They kept me connected to my culture," she says.

For years, Black Bonnet also focused on self-preservation, with an eye toward the future.

"What got me through my childhood," she explains, "was thinking, 'If my family is waiting for me, I have to be in one piece when I find them.'"

In 1998, when Black Bonnet was 24, she did find her family. Sadly, by then her mother had passed away. But she was still able to reconnect to her past by forming relationships with her family members and the Lakota community that embraced her.

Black Bonnet admits she spent some time being angry with her mother. But she soon realized that her identity as an American Indian is also entwined with memories of her mother.

"The best thing I can do now," she says, "is walk the world knowing people will see me as Carolyn's daughter. I represent her."

Mary Black Bonnet and Trevino L. Brings Plenty poetry readings

Gaylord Hall, Worner Center, 902 N. Cascade Ave.

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 4:30 p.m.

Free; for more, call 389-6607 or visit

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