Zitkala-Sa was a writer, translator, musician, educator and political activist from Yankton Dakota Sioux who is being celebrated with a Google Doodle on her 145th birthday. She was also known by the name of Gertrude Simmons Bonnin.
Google said the Doodle “celebrates the 145th birthday of writer, musician, teacher, composer and suffragette 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 American government did not consider the indigenous peoples of the United States to be real people, much less citizens, Zitkala-Ša dedicated her life to the protection and celebration of her indigenous heritage through of the arts and activism.. ”
According to Google, the Doodle was designed by Chris Pappan, an “American Indian guest artist of Osage, Kaw, Cheyenne River Sioux and European heritage.” Google added: “Happy birthday, Zitkala-Ša, and thank you for your efforts to protect and celebrate indigenous culture for generations to come.”
1. Zitkala-Sa Was Born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota & Her Name Translates From the Lakota/Lakȟótiyapi to ‘Red Bird’
Zitkala-Sa was born on February 22, 1876, on the Yankton Indiana Reservation in South Dakota, according to the National Park Service. According to his biography on the NPS website, Zitkala-Sa translates to “red bird” in Lakota / Lakȟótiyapi, which was spoken by his tribe, the Yankton Dakota Sioux. She was raised by a single mother after her father left the family, according to her biography.
According to the New York Historical Society, “little is known about her father, who was Anglo-American.”
At her work, Zitkala-Sa. Impressions from an Indian childhood, she wrote about her childhood on the reservation and with her mother. In one story, she wrote about watching her mother learn to work with beads and how to make loafers and other items, and imitate her by trading the items with her friends.
“I remember well how we exchanged necklaces, bead belts, and sometimes even loafers. We pretend to offer them as gifts to each other. We loved posing as our own mothers, ”she wrote in the chapter titled The Beadwork. “We talked about things that we had heard them say in their conversations. We imitate her various manners, even with the inflection of her voices. In the lap of the meadow we sat upright; and resting our painted cheeks on the palms of our hands, we put our elbows on our knees and leaned forward as older women were used to doing ”.
2. She Was Sent to a Boarding School When She Was 8, Where Her Hair Was Forcibly Cut & She Was Forbidden From Speaking Her Native Language
According to the New York Museum of History, Zitkala-Sa was sent to boarding school in Indiana when she was 8 years old 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 in conflict with the experience, and wrote both about her great joy in learning to read and write and play the violin, and about her deep pain and sorrow at losing her inheritance by being forced to pray as a Quaker. and cut her hair, “wrote the National Park Service. The New York Historical Society wrote of her experiences:
For children who had never left the reservation, the school sounded like a magical place. The missionaries told stories about traveling by train and picking red apples in large fields. After debating the decision, Zitkala-Sa’s mother agreed to let her go. She didn’t want her daughter to leave and she didn’t trust the strange whites, but she feared the Dakota way of life was ending. There were no schools on the reservation and she wanted her daughter to have an education.
According to her autobiography, as soon as Zitkala-Sa got on the train, she regretted begging her mother to let her go. She was about to spend years away from everything she knew. She did not know English and tribal languages were forbidden at school. She would be forced to renounce her Dakota culture for an “American.”
Zitkala-Sa’s arrival at the school was traumatic. The children learned that everyone would cut their hair. In Dakota culture, the only people who cut their hair were cowards who had been captured by the enemy. Zitkala-Sa resisted by hiding in an empty room. When school staff found her under a bed, she was dragged out of her, tied to a chair, and her braids cut off as she cried out loud. Later in her life, she wrote that the school staff didn’t care about her feelings and she treated children like “little animals.”
In The Schooldays of an Indian Girl, she wrote that she was “neither a wild Indian nor a meek”. According to the Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, “Her estrangement from her mother and the old ways of the reservation had increased, as had her resentment of the treatment of Native Americans by the state, the church, and the general population.” .
After her time at boarding school, Zitkala-Sa briefly returned to the reservation before returning to Indiana, where she attended Earlham College in Richmond. She would continue to teach at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and studied and performed at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Ziktala-Sa was a talented violinist and also wrote music.
Google wrote: “This was a common experience for thousands of indigenous children in the wake of the Civilization Fund Act of 1819, which provided funds for missionaries and religious groups to create an Indian boarding school system that would forcibly assimilate indigenous children. . While she became interested in some of the experiences in her new environment, such as learning to play the violin, she resisted institutional efforts to assimilate her into European-American culture, actions that she protested throughout a lifetime of writing. and political activism ”.
3. Zitkala-Sa Chronicled Native American Legends & History in Books & Wrote Articles for Publications Including the Atlantic Monthly & Harper’s Monthly
Google wrote in its description of the Zitkala-Sa Doodle: “Upon returning to his reservation, Zitkala-Ša chronicled an anthology of Dakota oral histories published as Old Indian Legends in 1901. The book was one of the earliest works in bring traditional Native American stories to a wider audience. Zitkala-Ša was also a talented musician. In 1913, he wrote the text and songs for the first Native American opera, The Sun Dance, based on one of the most sacred Sioux ceremonies.
Zitkala-Sa also wrote about native experiences for various publications, including Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly. She wrote in The Schooldays of an Indian Girl:
For the white man’s papers I had given up my faith in the Great Spirit. For these very papers he had forgotten healing in trees and streams. Due to my mother’s simple vision of life and my lack of her, I also abandoned her. I did not make friends among the race of people that I hated. Like a thin tree, I had been uprooted from my mother, nature, and God. I was stripped of my branches, which were waving with sympathy and love for my home and my friends. The natural layer of bark that had protected my hypersensitive nature was quickly scraped off.
The New York Historical Society wrote: “Zitkala-Sa channeled her frustration into her love of writing. She wrote about her personal experiences and the customs and values that she had learned from her mother.
4. Zitkala-Sa Co-Founded the National Council of American Indians to Lobby for U.S. Citizenship & Civil Rights for Native People
Zitkala-Sa also in 1926, according to PBS’s American Masters, “to push for greater political power for American Indians and the preservation of American Indian heritage and traditions.”
According to American Masters, “Zitkála-Šá became increasingly involved in the fight for the rights of Native Americans, pushing for American citizenship, voting, and sovereign rights. She was appointed secretary of the Society of American Indians, the first national rights organization run by and for American Indians, and edited her publication American Indian Magazine. ”
According to Google, “In addition to her creative accomplishments, Zitkala-Ša was a spokesperson for indigenous and women’s rights throughout her entire life. … Zitkala-Ša’s work was instrumental in passing landmark legislation, such as the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which grants citizenship to indigenous peoples born in the United States, as well as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 “.
In 1920, she spoke about the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and told Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party to remember her native sisters, who were not given suffrage. According to The New York Times, she said in a speech: “The Indian woman rejoices with you.”
The Times wrote in a January 2020 article, she, “and other Native suffragettes would continue to remind the public that the federal policy of assimilation had attacked their communities and cultures. Despite the promises of the treaty, the United States dismantled tribal governments, privatized tribal lands, and transferred native children to boarding schools. Those devastating policies resulted in massive land loss, poverty and poor health that impact these communities today. ”
5. Zitkala-Sa, who was married with a son, died in 1938
Zitkala-Sa was married to Raymond Talesfase Bonnin, whom she met while they were both working at the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the New York Historical Society. They had a son, who was born in 1902 and also named Raymond. She and her family spent time living in Utah, where she taught at a school on the Ute reservation, before moving to Washington, D.C. in order to increase her activism.
According to the New York Historical Society, “throughout her life she actively opposed the” Americanization “of Native American culture, and her writings continued to have an impact on policy makers long after her death. her”. She died on January 26, 1938 in Washington D.C. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2019, The Journey Museum and Learning Center honored Zitkala-Sa during Women’s History Month. Speaker Lily Mendoza told NewsCenter1: “We need to know who we are and where we come from, especially in our native community. And then also to educate non-natives in our community that there are strong women from the past who have worked for our rights. Not only for natives, but also for non-natives. ”
Mendoza said about Zitkala-Sa and her efforts to obtain the right to vote for the natives, which she obtained in 1924, “We were not registered to vote. And not being registered to vote really prevents us from having some kind of voice. “