Zitkala Sa was a Yankton Dakota Sioux writer, translator, musician, educator, and political activist who is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on her 145th birthday. She was also known by the name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin.
Co-author of the 1st Indigenous American opera ?
Powerful writer & musician ?
Resilient activist for Indigenous & women’s rights ?
She was born on February 22, 1876, in Yankton Reservation, South Dakota and she died on January 26, 1938, in Washington, D.C.
She was 62 years old.
According to the New York Museum of History, Zitkala-Sa was sent to a boarding school in Indiana when she was 8 after Quaker missionaries visited her reservation. It was there that she was given the name Gertrude Simmons.
“She attended the Institute until 1887. She was conflicted about the experience, and wrote both of her great joy in learning to read and write and to play the violin, as well as her deep grief and pain of losing her heritage by being forced to pray as a Quaker and cut her hair,” the National Park Service wrote.
After her time at the boarding school, Zitkala-Sa briefly returned to the reservation before she returned to Indiana, where she attended Earlham College in Richmond.
Returning back home to her reservation, Zitkala-Ša chronicled an anthology of oral Dakota stories published as Old Indian Legends in 1901.
The book was among the first works to bring traditional Indigenous American stories to a wider audience. Zitkala-Ša was also a gifted musician.
In 1913, she wrote the text and songs for the first Indigenous American opera, The Sun Dance, based on one of the most sacred Sioux ceremonies.”
Zitkala-Sa also wrote about Native experiences for several publications, including Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly.
Zitkala-Sa also in 1926, according to PBS’ American Masters, “to lobby for increased political power for American Indians, and the preservation of American Indian heritage and traditions.”
In 1920, she spoke about the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, telling Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party to remember their Native sisters, who were not given suffrage.
According to The New York Times, she said in a speech, “The Indian woman rejoices with you.”
Husband And Children
She was married to Raymond Talesfase Bonnin, who she met while they were both working at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the New-York Historical Society. They had one son, who was born in 1902 and was also named Raymond.
She and her family spent time living in Utah, where she taught at a school on the Ute reservation, before relocating to Washington D.C. so they could increase their activism.
Google said the Doodle, “celebrates the 145th birthday of writer, musician, teacher, composer, and suffragist Zitkala-Ša, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate or ‘People of the End Village’).
A woman who lived resiliently during a time when the Indigenous people of the United States were not considered real people by the American government, let alone citizens, Zitkala-Ša devoted her life to the protection and celebration of her Indigenous heritage through the arts and activism.