Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist, adapted by Gina Capaldi and Q.L. Pearce, illustrations by Gina Capaldi, Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, MN, 2011.
The story of Red Bird, born Gertrude Simmons is one of overcoming the odds, and one of fighting for equality. She was also known as Gertrude Simmons. At a young age she left her reservation to be educated at a Quaker school, White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana. This was common in that day, but it was hard as often students were expected to leave their Native Americanness behind. Hair was often cut, they were taught a different religion, and were expected to talk in English instead of their native tongue. This was difficult. Gertrude Simmons, or Red Bird was left at a place between two worlds, with neither being home.
However in the end, after graduating, she chose to stay to pursue higher education in music. She was an accomplished violinist and pianist, and had taught music lessons at the institute. She was an accomplished orator and musician. She won a state speech contest, even though there were those to intimidate her because she was a “squaw.” She even recited poetry for President McKinley.
Despite her accomplishments, when she returned home she discovered things had just gotten worse on the reservation. She had been teaching at Carlisle Indian School. When she returned she resigned her post, and began studying music. She also began writing, telling the stories of herself and her people. She married Raymond Bonnin, a Yankton-Dakota. They traveled to Utah and worked with the Ute people. While there, with William F> Hanson she wrote and staged a Native American opera, the first of its kind. Many of the Utes took part in the reenactment of the Sioux Sun Dance.
Red Bird eventually made her way to Washington D.C. where she was active in politics, speaking for and fighting for her people as well as for women’s suffrage.