Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons)
Native American Philosophy,
Social & Political Philosophy
Remember!! Your purchase of books by clicking on Abe Books or Amazon links through this site earns us a small commission that is used to provide travel scholarships.
For details click here.
Zitkala-Sa born Gertrude Simmons, was one of the first Native American women to write and publish traditional tribal
stories and autobiographical pieces. Her upbringing on the Sioux reservation in South Dakota, her
education in white missionary schools and her subsequent employment in
white schools is the basis for many of her pieces criticizing white
oppression of Native Americans. Throughout her life she struggled with
her status as a white-educated Indian and her passion for Native
American culture and Indian rights.
- 1876: Gertrude Simons (Zitkal-Sa ) was born on February 22nd, 1876
at the Yankton Sioux Agency. Her mother was Tate I Yohin Win, a
full-blood Dakota and her father was John Haysting, a white man who left
before she was born. She lived with her mother and learned the ways of
her tribe until she was recruited for boarding school at the age of 8.
- 1884: White missionaries arrive at the Sioux
reservation recruiting students for White's Manual Institute, a Quaker
boarding school in Wabash, Indiana. Despite Tate I Yohin Win's fear of
white society, she though her daughter would need a
traditional white education as settlers encroached on Indian land.
- 1895: Completed 6 years of missionary education at White's Manual Institute.
- 1895-1897: Attended Earlham College where she developed talents as a violinist and orator.
- 1899-1900: Accepts a teaching post at the
assimilationist school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School in
she began publishing under the nom de plume Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird).
Although, the name is Sioux in origin (Lakota), it is not from her
native dialect (Nakota).
Some think that her selection of a Native American pen name
not originating from her ancestral tongue signifies her feelings of
disassociation from both white society and her tribe. She is said to
have described her status as, "in the heart of chaos, beyond the touch
or voice of human aid." During this time she also published short
stories in Harper's Magazine and Atlantic Monthly.
- 1901: Leaves Carlisle School amidst criticism from
the founder, Richard Henry Pratt, who characterizes her stories as
"worse than pagan" and "trash." However, she is contracted with Ginn
and Company to contribute material for Old Indian Legends (1901).
She begins work as an issue clerk on the Standing Rock
Reservation in North Dakota. Also, during this time her romantic
relationship with Carlos Montezuma, a Yavapai doctor and intellectual,
dissolves over a dispute between assimilating into Chicago's white
society as a doctor's wife
or remaining faithful to her ideals of Native American culture and
- 1902: Moves to Unitah and Ouray Reservation in Utah where she is a teacher and clerk. She meets and marries
Raymond Talesfase Bonnin, a Yankton Sioux.
- 1903: Gives birth to a son, Raymond O. Bonnin
- 1911: Becomes a member of the Society of American Indians.
- 1913: Despite dismal conditions of the reservation and
the challenges of motherhood she collaborates with William Hanson in
the creation of the Indian opera, "The Sun Dance".
- 1916: She leaves the Unitah and Ouray Reservation and moves to Washington D.C. where she works as the secretary of the
Society of American Indians.
- 1918-1919: Zitkal-Sa becomes the editor of the American Indian Magazine
- 1920: The Society of American Indians is disbanded.
Zitkala-Sa begins working with the General Federation of Women's Clubs
to eventually found the Indian Welfare Committee.
- 1926-1938: Becomes an organizer and later president of the National Council of American Indians. She works for
fair Indian legislation- traveling the United States speaking at women's clubs and publishing essays and articles
in support of Indian rights.
- 1938: Dies of heart and kidney disease January 26th and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
- Frederick J. Dockstader, "Gertrude Simmons Bonnin," in Great North American Indians: Profiles in Life and Leadership (A norback book)
- Mary E. Young, "Gertrude Simmons Bonnin," in Notable American Women, 1607-1950, edited by Edward T. James (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1971) , pp. 198-200.
- Deborah Welch, "American Indian Leader: The Story of Gertrude Bonnin," dissertation, University of Wyoming, 1985.
The material for this entry was researched and submitted by
This page was last updated 12/18/14.
Society for the Study of Women Philosophers