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October 10, 1990

The Last Death Song

Author Affiliations

Sioux City, Iowa

Sioux City, Iowa

JAMA. 1990;264(14):1889. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140111052

Death came as no surprise to Mary. She lay in her bed and sang. The third floor of the deteriorating Indian Hospital rang with her voice.

She was very old. When Mary had been born, the Battle of Wounded Knee was still news, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs' policy encouraged the sale of reservation lands to non-Indians. The memories of the tribe's five forced moves in 30 years were as strong in her society's memory as the memory of the Holocaust is today. The peyote church came to the reservation and replaced the warrior societies as the social organizing force when Mary was mastering literacy of her own language. The clan system was deteriorating at the beginning of World War II when her grandchildren started to arrive. English had replaced Hochungra as the reservation's main language at the end of the war, and by that time written Hochungra had