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Life Story: Zitkala-Sa, aka Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (1876-1938)

Fighting for the Rights of Indigenous People

The story of an activist and composer who fought tirelessly for Indigenous rights and citizenship.

A photograph of Zitkala-Sa in profile. She is facing to her right with one hand on her brow, wearing clothing from her tribe.
Zitkala-Sa

Gertrude Kasebier, Zitkala Sa, Sioux Indian and activist, c. 1898. Gertrude Kasebier, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

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A photograph of Zitkala-Sa in profile facing to her left. She is holding a basket and wearing western clothing.
Zitkala-Sa

Gertrude Kasebier, Zitkala Sa, Sioux Indian and activist, c. 1898. Gertrude Kasebier, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

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This video was created by the New-York Historical Society Teen Leaders in collaboration with the Untold project.

Suggested Activities

  • Compare the experiences of Zitkala-Sa and her mother with those of Marie Arteshaw and Theresa Green, who also grappled with the challenge of education in the Indigenous community.
  • Read this life story and that of Edith Maude Eaton. Both women had white fathers and non-white mothers. How were their views of the world and the opportunities afforded to them shaped by their mixed-race heritage?
  • Compare the life stories of Zitkala-Sa and Jovita Idar Juárez. How did each woman work to legitimize her culture and resist xenophobic policies and belief systems? How did the issue of education play a role in each woman’s work?
  • Explore how influential female photographer Gertrude Kasebier helped establish photography as a fine art, and what her portraits of Zitkala-Sa told the viewer about her life and identity. Using Kasebier’s photographs as inspiration, students will photograph a series of portraits staged to incorporate aspects of the sitter’s own personal identity.

Themes

ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE; AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; AMERICAN CULTURE; POWER AND POLITICS

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