Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, also known as Zitkala-Sa or Red Bird, was born in 1876 to a full-blooded Sioux woman and a white man.
She struggled with her mixed-race heritage as a chid on the reservation as well as off. She received a scholarship to attend Earlham University where she studied violin.
Her activism began after she took a teaching position at the New England Conservatory where the school’s founder’s philosophy was “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
She started writing essays against the movement to make Indian students relinquish their cultural identities. In 1916, as an officer of the Society of American Indians, she was instrumental in the formation of the Indian Welfare Committee and wrote an investigation into the government’s mistreatment of Indian tribes–specifically, the defrauding of American Indians in Oklahoma of their oil-rich lands. In 1926, she founded the National Council of American Indians, a lobbying group for American Indian legal rights.
Zitkala-Sa’s worked as an activist her entire life, but she also kept up her love for music and writing. In 1938, her opera “Sun Dance” debuted on Broadway. She died that same year.-Heidi Durrow
Mixed Experience History Month is the annual blog post series created by The New York Times best-selling author Heidi Durrow celebrating the history of the Mixed experience. Established in 2007, Mixed Experience History Month is an effort to highlight the long history of folks and events involved in the Mixed experience. Please look for archived profiles of people, places and events of the Mixed experience every weekday of May! Thanks for reading. And check out some of the previous year’s profiles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.