Seek the House of Relatives, 1983
I Remember the Fallen Trees: New and Selected Poems, 1998
From the River’s Edge, 1991
Aurelia: A Crow Creek Trilogy, 1999
The Power of Horses, and Other Stories, 1990
Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner, and Other Essays, 1996
The Politics of Hallowed Ground: Wounded Knee and the Struggle for Indian Sovereignty, 1999 (with Mario Gonzalez)
Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth, 2001
Then Badger Said This, 1977 (poetry, songs, and stories)
The work of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn recounts the historical displacement of indigenous tribes in the Great Plains as well as their resultant struggles to preserve a heritage and maintain an identity in a colonized land. She is the daughter and granddaughter of Sioux linguists and politicians, careers that would influence her own as a writer of social criticism. Her great-grandfather compiled an early Dacotah dictionary, and her grandmother worked as a bilingual journalist. Both her father and grandfather were active in the tribal council on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, where she spent her childhood. In 1952 Cook-Lynn received her undergraduate degree in English and journalism at South Dakota State College. In 1971 she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of South Dakota. She attended Stanford University as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1976 and was engaged in doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska in 1977-1978.
Her first book, Then Badger Said This, is an illustrated collection of poems, songs, and stories celebrating American Indian traditions and lore. Seek the House of Relatives, a collection of poems, followed; it offered a darker perspective on social forces that work against the continuity and visibility of indigenous cultures, while still praising their oral traditions and spiritual heritage. Cook-Lynn cited her anger at the exclusion of American Indian history and experience from school curriculums nationwide as a prime reason she began to write. She viewed her writing as a tool for survival and as a marker of existence, both hers and that of her people. In her books, articles, and essays, Cook-Lynn becomes the chronicler of the excluded American Indian presence.
Personal and group survival in the midst of tribal and multicultural conflict is a dominant theme in The Power of Horses, and Other Stories and From the River’s Edge, both works of fiction that explore the fallout of centuries of enforced colonization under the brutal authority of European invaders. Cook-Lynn explores in her numerous writings what happens when a dominant culture imposes its values and systems upon indigenous peoples, a loss not only of land but also of autonomy and way of life.
Shifting her focus away from the lengthy exclusion of American Indian stories and studies in fields of scholarship, Cook-Lynn’s later works point to the troublesome nature of their more recent inclusion in academics. Questions of cultural, academic, and literary authority are broached in Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner, and Other Essays, a collection of articles that not only relays but also complicates the nature of American Indian studies, now that such a body of work exists. Her collaboration with Mario Gonzalez, an Oglala Sioux attorney, led to the 1999 publication of The Politics of Hallowed Ground, which focuses on the disparity between American Indian sovereignty and the white man’s law, particularly as concerns matters of justice.
Cook-Lynn’s illustrious teaching career, first as a high school teacher and later as a university professor, spanned several decades. Beginning in 1971, she was professor of English and Native American studies at Eastern Washington University in Cheney; upon her retirement two decades later she was named professor emerita. During the 1990’s, she was a visiting professor on a number of major university campuses, including Arizona State University.
Cook-Lynn has been recognized for her educational work, as well as literary achievements, on behalf of human rights. The Native American Club at South Dakota State University bestowed upon her the Oyate Igluwitaya Award, an honor accorded to those who truly empathize with the downtrodden. Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner, and Other Essays received the prestigious Gustavus Myers Award for its humanitarian focus.
She was a founding editor of Wicazo Sa Review, a journal devoted to American Indian issues and perspectives. She consults with universities to develop curricula for American Indian studies programs. Cook-Lynn’s work has been widely anthologized in collections of American Indian literature. At the turn of the twenty-first century, she continued to reside and write in the Black Hills of South Dakota.