The Work and Life of Zitkála-Šá

Zitkala-Sa (1898) by Gertrude Kasebier via Wikimedia (public domain)


Zitkála-Šá (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) was a Native American writer, editor, translator, musician, teacher, and activist, and is regarded as one of the most prominent Native American voices of the early 20th century. Born on the Yankton Indian Reservation on February 22, 1876 to a Yankton Dakota Sioux mother and unknown white father, Zitkála-Šá was raised by her mother on the Reservation for the first eight years of her life. At age eight, she left the Reservation to receive Quaker missionary schooling at White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute, where she learned to write and play the violin, and was given the name Gertrude Simmons, as part of the Institute’s deracination aims. While she returned to the Reservation at the age of eleven, she felt a disconnect between her Quaker schooling and Native American home, and that she was “neither a wild Indian nor a tame one” (“School Days of an Indian Girl”). Against the wishes of her mother, she returned to the Institute to complete her high school diploma, and then accepted a scholarship to study in the teachers’ training program at Earlham College. With just six months to go until the completion of her college degree, she was forced to leave Earlham in 1897 due to financial and health issues. Throughout her studies, she was known for her oratorical skills, and specifically her speeches on women’s rights.

Taking up work as a teacher at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Zitkála-Šá was forced to confront the deracination of Native Americans from the other side of the desk. In her tenure as a teacher, she was sent back to her home Reservation to recruit students, and was shocked at the poverty and disrepair she witnessed. After writing an anti-assimilationist piece for Harper’s in 1901 (“The Soft-Hearted Sioux”), she left (or was possibly fired from, sources disagree) the school and returned to the Reservation to care for her ailing mother. The same year, she published her first work, Old Indian Legends. Zitkála-Šá then began working at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Utah and married Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin, who was also of mixed Indian ancestry. Their only son, Raymond Ohiya, was born while she lived in Utah. In this time, she also wrote The Sun Dance Opera with composer William F. Hanson, credited as the first American Indian opera ever written. As Zitkála-Šá worked with the Bureau, she grew frustrated with their assimilationist policies, and her family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1916, where she worked as the secretary for the Society of American Indians and edited their journal, American Indian Magazine. During this time, she wrote pieces detailing the mistreatment of American Indians, like Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians, and American Indian Stories, which combined many of her earlier magazine articles. In 1926, she and her husband founded the National Council of American Indians, and Zitkála-Šá served as its president until her death in 1938, working tirelessly to improve education, healthcare, and legal representation for Native Americans while preserving their cultural traditions.

While Zitkála-Šá was well known during her life, shortly after her death her work went out of print and wasn’t republished until the 1980s. This recovery of her legacy could be attributed in part to the “Native American Renaissance,” a movement aiming to document, publicize, and expand the Native American literary canon. With the rise of Native American scholarly journals, Zitkála-Šá’s work once more gained attention, and has been translated into at least four languages and anthologized in numerous collections within the past twenty years. With new editions of her work being released in 2019 and 2020, it seems that public interest in this fascinating figure is only increasing.

Biography compiled from the following sources:
New York Historical Society
National Park Service
Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center
Manataka American Indian Council
University of Minnesota

Below, I’ve listed Zitkala-Sa’s original writings, as well as reprints, scholarly articles, and anthologies that focus on or include her work. I do not mean for this list to be considered exhaustive, only as a starting point for interested people to learn more about her legacy.

Bibliography: Primary Sources

Sourced via WorldCat

First Editions

Magazine Publications

  1. Zitkala-Sa. Impressions of an Indian Childhood. Atlantic Monthly. 85 (1900): 37-47. Print.
  2. Zitkala-Sa. School Days of an Indian Girl. Atlantic Monthly. 85 (1900): 185-194. Print.
  3. Zitkala-Sa. An Indian Teacher Among Indians. Atlantic Monthly. 85 (1900): 381-386. Print.
    Original scans for items 1-3
  4. Zitkala-Sa. The Soft Hearted Sioux. Harper’s Monthly. 102 (1901): 505-508. Print.
  5. Zitkala-Sa. The Trial Path. Harper’s Monthly. 103 (1901): 741-744. Print.
    Original scan for item 5
  6. Zitkala-Sa. Why I Am a Pagan. Atlantic Monthly. 90 (1902): 801-803. Print.
    Original scan of item 6

Original Books and Other Longer Materials

  1. Zitkala-S̈a, and Henook-Makhewe-Kelenaka. Old Indian Legends. Boston: The Atheneum Press, 1901. Print.
    Text link
  2. Zitkala-S̈a. American Indian Stories. Washington: Hayworth Pub. House, 1921. Print.
    Text link
  3. Zitkala-S̈a, Charles H. Fabens, and Matthew K. Sniffen. Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians: An Orgy of Graft and Exploitation of the Five Civilized Tribes, Legalized Robbery : a Report. Philadelphia, Pa: Office of the Indian Rights Association, 1924. Print.
  4. Zitkala-S̈a. Constitution and By-Laws of National Council of American Indians. Washington, D.C: National Council of American Indians, 1926. Print.


  1. Hanson, William F, and Zitkala-S̈a. The Sun Dance Opera: Romantic Indian Opera. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1938. Musical score.

Later and Modern Editions

Some Reprints and Posthumous Collections

  1. Old Indian Legends (reprint)
    Zitkala-Sa, and Agnes M. Picotte. Old Indian Legends. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Print.
  2. American Indian Stories (reprints)
    Zitkala-Ša. American Indian Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Print.
    Zitkala-Ša, and Susan R. Dominguez. American Indian Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. Print.
    Zitkala-S̈a, and Susan R. Dominguez. American Indian Stories. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2005. Print.
    Zitkala-S̈a. American Indian Stories. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2008. Print.
    Zitkala-S̈a. American Indian Stories. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.
    Zitkala-S̈a, and Soldier L. Long. American Indian Stories. , 2019. Print.
  3. Zitkala-Sa, Cathy N. Davidson, and Ada Norris. American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
  4. Zitkala-Sa, and Agnes M. Picotte. Iktomi the Ducks: And Other Sioux Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Print.
  5. Dreams and Thunder: Stories, Poems, and the Sun Dance Opera (2005)
    Zitkala-S̈a, , and P J. Hafen. Dreams and Thunder: Stories, Poems, and the Sun Dance Opera. Lincoln, Neb: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. Print.
  6. Zitkala-Ša, and S D. Nelson. Dance in a Buffalo Skull. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2007. Print.
  7. Zitkala-S̈a. American Indian Stories and Old Indian Legends. , 2014. Print.
  8. Zitkala-Ša, and Tadeusz Lewandowski. Letters, Speeches, and Unpublished Writings, 1898-1929. , 2018. Print.
  9. Zitkala-S̈a, P J. Hafen, and Margaret Noodin. Help Indians Help Themselves: The Later Writings of Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-S̈a). , 2020. Print.

Other Languages and Countries

  1. Zitkala-S̈a. Impressions of an Indian Childhood. Gloucester, UK: Dodo Press, 2008. Print.
  2. Zitkala-S̈a. The School Days of an Indian Girl: An Indian Teacher Among Indians. Gloucester, UK: Dodo Press, 2009. Print.
  3. Zitkala-Sa, and Jocelyne Rotily. Iktomi: Légendes Indiennes. Marseille: Association culturelle France-Amérique, 2010. Print.
  4. Zitkala-Sa. Recuerdos De Una India Sioux. Vilafranca del Penedés, Barcelona: Erasmus, 2011. Print.
  5. Zitkala-Sa. Amerikaanse Indiaanse Verhalen. Place of publication not identified: Lulu Com, 2013. Print.
  6. Zitkala-Sa. Oude Indiaanse Legendes. Place of publication not identified: Lulu Com, 2013. Print.
  7. Zitkala-S̈a, Frank Elstner, and Ulrich Grafe. Roter Vogel Erzählt: Erzählungen Einer Dakota. Chemnitz: Palisander Verlag, 2015. Print.


  1. Dorenkamp, Angela G, and John F. Macclymer. Images of Women in American Popular Culture. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1985. Print.
    Republished 1995
  2. Allen, Paula G. Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. Print.
  3. Peyer, Bernd C. The Singing Spirit: Early Short Stories by North American Indians. Tucson, Ariz: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1989. Print.
    Republished 1993
  4. Regier, Willis G. Masterpieces of American Indian Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. Print.
    Republished 2005
  5. Plains Native American Literature. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Globe Fearon, 1993. Print.
  6. Allen, Paula G. The Voice of the Turtle: Twentieth-century American Indian Literature. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Print.
  7. Nagel, James. The Portable American Realism Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. Print.
  8. Kilcup, Karen L. Nineteenth-century American Women Writers: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1997. Print.
    Republished 2002
  9. Corey, Susan, Jonathan Boe, and Marsha Markman. Writing Women’s Lives: American Women’s History Through Letters and Diaries. , 1999. Print.
  10. Purdy, John L, and James Ruppert. Nothing but the Truth: An Anthology of Native American Literature. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2001. Print.
  11. Bensen, Robert E. Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education. University of Arizona Press, 2001. Print.
  12. Skerrett, Joseph T. Literature, Race, and Ethnicity: Contesting American Identities. New York: Longman, 2002. Print.
  13. Skinner, Ellen. Women and the National Experience: Primary Sources in American History. Boston Mass: Prentice Hall, 1996. Print.
    Republished 2003, 2011
  14. Richardson, Angelique. Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women, 1890-1914. , 2002. Print.
    Republished 2005
  15. McLaughlin, Marie L, Zitkala-S̈a, and Peter N. Jones. Lakota Sioux Legends and Myths: Native American Oral Traditions. Boulder, Colo: Bauu Press, 2009. Print.Link, William A, and Susannah J. Link. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era: A Documentary Reader. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2012. Print.
  16. Pomplun, Tom. Native American Classics: Graphic Classics. Mount Horeb, Wis: Eureka Productions, 2013. Print.
  17. Andrews, William L, and Paul J. Eakin. Classic American Autobiographies. , 2014. Print.
  18. McCall, Sophie, David Gaertner, Deanna Reder, and Gabrielle L. H. Hill. Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island. , 2017. Print.

For Juvenile Readers

  1. Rappoport, Doreen. The Flight of the Red Bird: The Life of Zitkala-Sa. New York: Puffin Books, 1997. Print.

Bibliography: Secondary Sources

I compiled this list using and WorldCat. I included articles that seem to focus specifically on Zitkala-Sa, but a more thorough treatment can be found at the WSU link.

Selected Scholarly Articles

  1. Kunce, Catherine. “Fire of Eden: Zitkala-Sa’s Bitter Apple.” Studies in American Indian Literatures. 18.1 (2006): 73-82. Print.
  2. Carpenter, Ron. “Zitkala-sa and Bicultural Subjectivity.” Studies in American Indian Literatures. 16.3 (2004): 1-28. Print.
  3. Enoch, Jessica. “Resisting the Script of Indian Education: Zitkala Sa and the Carlisle Indian School.” College English. 65.2 (2002): 117. Print.
  4. Spack, Ruth. “Dis/engagement: Zitkala-Ŝa’s Letters to Carlos Montezuma, 1901-1902.” Melus. 26.1 (2001): 173-204. Print.
  5. Totten, Gary. “Zitkala-ša and the Problem of Regionalism: Nations, Narratives, and Critical Traditions.” American Indian Quarterly. 29 (2005): 84-123. Print.
  6. Spack, Ruth. “Re-visioning Sioux Women: Zitkala-S̈a’s Revolutionary American Indian Stories.” Legacy. 14.1 (1997): 25-42. Print.
  7. Cutter, Martha J. “Zitkala-sä’s Autobiographical Writings: the Problems of a Canonical Search for Language and Identity.” Melus. 19.1 (1994): 31-44. Print.
  8. Rifkin, Mark. “Romancing Kinship: A Queer Reading of Indian Education and Zitkala-S̆a’s “american Indian Stories.”.” GLQ (online). (2006): 27-59. Print.
  9. Spack, Ruth. “Zitkala-s̈a, the Song of Hiawatha, and the Carlisle Indian School Band: a Captivity Tale.” Legacy. 25.2 (2008): 211-224. Print.

Archival Holdings

For this section, I relied on WorldCat. The holdings listed here are also certainly non-exhaustive, and just reflect the holding locations I thought were most interesting.

Original Books and Other Longer Materials

  1. Old Indian Legends (1901)
    Original editions held at: Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, universities and archives in USA and Europe
  2. American Indian Stories (1921)
    Original editions held at: NYPL, universities in USA
  3. Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians: An Orgy of Graft and Exploitation of the Five Civilized Tribes, Legalized Robbery (1924)
    Original editions held at: Smithsonian Institution Libraries, American Museum of Natural History, universities and archives in USA
  4. Constitution and By-Laws of National Council of American Indians (1926)
    Original editions held at: Amherst College


  1. The Sun Dance Opera
    Score held at: Black Hills State University, Utah State University
    Recent Performances of The Sun Dance:

One thought on “The Work and Life of Zitkála-Šá

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s