Who Was Zitkala-Sa?

Zitkala-SaZitkala-Sa (1876-1938) was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, South Dakota. Her Sioux name means “Red Bird.” Her mother was Sioux; her father was not Sioux and soon abandoned the family.
          At age eight, Zitkala-Sa was sent to a Quaker missionary school for Indian children – White’s Manual Institute – in Wabash, Indiana. There she was renamed Gertrude Simmons and trained to be a housekeeper. She also learned to read and write and to play the violin.
          In 1887 she returned to the Yankton Sioux reservation. Four years later she resumed her studies at White’s where she earned a diploma and a scholarship to Earlham College in 1895.
          Zitkala-Sa continued her musical studies and played violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston from 1897-99.
          In 1899 she taught music at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. She traveled to Paris, France in 1900 as a violinist with the Carlisle Indian Band which performed at the Paris Exposition.
          Returning to Yankton in 1901, she began collecting Native American stories. A job as clerk for Bureau of Indian Affairs took her to the Standing Rock Reservation in 1902. There she met and married Captain Ray Bonnin, a Sioux World War I veteran.
          The couple spent fourteen years living and working on the Uintah-Ouray Ute Reservation in Utah. Zitkala-Sa became a well known activist for Indian Rights and Women’s Rights.
          The family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1916. Zitkala-Sa worked as secretary of the Society for American Indians. She edited the organization’s American Indian Magazine and lectured around the country on Indian issues.
          In 1921 she published American Indian Stories, collected stories along with autobiographical works. Her essays appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s.
As a writer, she was a member of the Woman’s National Foundation, League of American Pen Women, and the Washington Salon.
          Zitkala-Sa died at age 61 and was buried beside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.


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