Yankton Dakota writer (1876-1938)

Zitkala-Ša (Lakota: Zitkála-Šá, meaning Red Bird) (February 22, 1876 – January 26, 1938), also known by her missionary and married names Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was a Yankton Dakota writer, editor, translator, musician, educator, and political activist. She wrote several works chronicling her struggles with cultural identity, and the pull between the majority culture in which she was educated, and the Dakota culture into which she was born and raised. Her later books were among the first works to bring traditional Native American stories to a widespread white English-speaking readership. Zitkala-Ša has been noted as one of the most influential Native American activists of the 20th century.

Zitkala-Ša circa 1898


  • For the white man's papers I had given up my faith in the Great Spirit. For these same papers I had forgotten the healing in trees and brooks. On account of my mother's simple view of life, and my lack of any, I gave her up, also. I made no friends among the race of people I loathed. Like a slender tree, I had been uprooted from my mother, nature, and God. I was shorn of my branches, which had waved in sympathy and love for home and friends. The natural coat of bark which had protected my oversensitive nature was scraped off to the very quick.
    • Article anthologized in American Women Activists' Writings: An Anthology, 1637-2001
  • In this fashion many have passed idly through the Indian schools during the last decade, afterward to boast of their charity to the North American Indian. But few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.
    • Article anthologized in American Women Activists' Writings: An Anthology, 1637-2001

Speech (1896)Edit

In Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History (2000)

  • Quick to string his bow for vengeance; ready to bury the hatchet or smoke the pipe of peace; never was he first to break a treaty or known to betray a friend with whom he had eaten salt.
  • The invasion of his broad dominions by a paler race brought no dismay to the hospitable Indian. Samoset voiced the feeling of his people as he stood among the winter-weary Pilgrims and cried "Welcome, Englishmen." Nor did the Indian cling selfishly to his lands; willingly he divides with Roger Williams and with Penn, who pay him for his own. History bears record to no finer examples of fidelity. To Jesuit, to Quaker, to all who kept their faith with him, his loyalty never failed.
  • Unfortunately civilization is not an unmixed blessing. Vices begin to creep into his life and deepen the Red Man's degradation. He learns to crave the European liquid fire. Broken treaties shake his faith in the newcomers. Continued aggressions goad him to desperation. The White Man's bullet decimates his tribes and drives him from his home.
  • He loved the inheritance of his fathers, their traditions, their graves; he held them a priceless legacy to be sacredly kept. He loved his native land. Do you wonder still that in his breast he should brood revenge, when ruthlessly driven from the temples where he worshiped? Do you wonder still that he skulked in forest gloom to avenge the desolation of his home? Is patriotism a virtue only in Saxon hearts? Is there no charity to cover his crouching form as he stealthily opposed his relentless foe?
  • Let it be remembered, before condemnation is passed upon the Red Man, that, while he burned and tortured frontiersmen, Puritan Boston burned witches and hanged Quakers, and the Southern aristocrat beat his slaves and set bloodhounds on the tracks of him who dared aspire to freedom. The barbarous Indian, ignorant alike of Roman justice, Saxon law, and the Gospel of Christian brotherhood, in the fury of revenge has brought no greater stain upon his name than these.
  • Poets sing of a coming federation of the world, and we applaud. Idealists dream that in this commonwealth of all humanity the divine spark in man shall be the only test of citizenship, and we think of their dream and future history.
  • Today the Indian is pressed almost to the farther sea. Does that sea symbolize his death?
  • To take the life of a nation during the slow march of centuries seems not a lighter crime than to crush it instantly with one fatal blow.
  • We clasp the warm hand of friendship everywhere. From honest hearts and sincere lips we hear the hearty welcome and Godspeed.

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