Groundbreaking Indigenous author and activist Zitkala-Ša lived and worked in two different worlds.
The renowned suffragist and voting rights activist was born in Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, in 1876 – the year that the Sioux defeated Custer, she liked to remind people.
Who was Zitkala-Sa?
Zitkala-Ša grew up on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota.
Throughout her life she actively opposed the “Americanization” of Indigenous American culture.
She was raised by her mother and aunts after her father, a man of French descent, abandoned the family.
When she was eight years old, Quaker missionaries arrived, offering the reservation’s children a free education.
But there was a catch – the kids had to leave their parents behind and travel to Indiana, explains Penguin Random House.
She later wrote of the terror experienced by Indigenous children removed from their families and sent to live among strangers at a time when the federal government set about eliminating Indigenous nations.
What age was Zitkala-Sa when she died?
Zitkala-Ša – also known as suffragist and voting rights activist Gertrude Simmons Bonnin – died in Virginia in 1938.
She was eligible for burial there as a veteran’s spouse due to Raymond’s US Army service in the Great War, and he later joined her.
Her tombstone reads: “Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, ‘Zitkala-Ša of the Sioux’ 1876-1938” with a tepee carved on the back.
This message was one she had spent much of her life explaining to non-Native Americans: she could be both a citizen of the US and a citizen of the Yankton Sioux Nation – she did not have to choose.
She was a groundbreaking Dakota author and activist[/caption]
What are Zitkala-Sa’s most famous quotes
In 1901 Zitkala-Sa’s “Old Indian Legends” – passed down by oral storytellers of her Sioux tribe – was published.
The author is known for many beautiful and thought-provoking quotes including:
- “There is no great; there is no small; in the mind that causeth all.”
- “Let us not look for good or justice: then we shall not be disappointed!”
- “A wee child toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.”
- “Few there are who have paused to question whether real life or long-lasting death lies beneath this semblance of civilization.”
- “I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.”
Why is she being celebrated as today’s Google Doodle?
On this day in 1876, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for “Red Bird”) – also known as Gertrude Simmons – was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The then eight-year-old was also forced to practice a religion she didn’t believe in, explains Google.
Zitkala-Ša integrated her traditional heritage with modern ideas and was a vocal supporter of native rights and citizenship and women’s suffrage.
Also known as Gertrude Simmons, she was a Yankton Sioux woman of Indigenous American and white ancestry[/caption]
She was elected as one of the leaders of the Society of American Indians, a political advocacy group.
Zitkala-Ša supported American Indians’ dual citizenship in native tribes and the US, crisscrossing the country to urge white women, newly able to vote, to support Indian rights.
Thanks in part to Zitkala-Ša’s grassroots organizing, the Indian Citizenship Act was enacted in 1924.
Zitkala-Ša devoted her life to the protection and celebration of her Indigenous heritage through the arts and activism.
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