Sunday, May 29, 2016

Native American Biography: Gertrude Simmons Bonnin: Sioux

Bonnin Indian name Zitkala Sa meaning Red Bird, was born of a Sioux mother and a White father in 1875 on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  She left the reservation when she was young to be educated at a Quaker School.  She then went on to Earlham College and upon graduation taught at Carlisle Indian School.  However she didn't stay at the school long as she conflicted with the attitude of assimilating and taking away the culture of Native People.  She also studied violin at the Boston Conservatory of Music.  She grew up during a time when educational practices were geared towards assimilation of Indian children.  However she used her education to advocate tolerance of Indian differences.  She worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Standing Rock Indian Reservation and met and married Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin.  He was assigned to the agency on the Uintah Ouray Reservation and Bonnin lived and worked with the Ute people for fourteen years.  While there, with William F. Hanson they wrote a Native American opera, "Sun Dance Opera" for which Bonnin wrote the libretto and songs.  It premiered in Utah in 1913 to great local praise.  Many Utes participated in the dancing parts.  Leading vocal roles went to non-natives.  It was the first opera co authored by a Native American.  She wrote stories for Harpers Monthly and Atlantic Monthly.  She would publish a couple books of autobiographical essays and stories.  She was also active in American Indian movements joining the Society of American Indians and organizing the National Council of American Indians.


  1. She was born on the YANKTON DAKOTA SIOUX reservation. Not every Sioux person is from Pine Ridge. Get it right!