Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, Zitkala-sa (Red Bird), was an extraordinarily talented and educated Native American woman who struggled and triumphed in a time when severe prejudice prevailed toward Native American culture and women. Her talents and contributions in the worlds of literature, music, and politics challenge long-standing beliefs that the white man's culture is good, and Native Americans are sinful savages. Bonnin aimed at creating understanding between the dominant white and Native American cultures. As a woman of mixed white and Native American ancestry, she embodied the need for the two cultures to live cooperatively within the same body of land. Her works criticized dogma, and her life as a Native American woman was dedicated against the evils of oppression.
Though most noted for her literary and political genius, Bonnin was also an accomplished violinist and even won a scholarship to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music. As a writer, she adopted the pen name "Zitkala-a" and in 1900 began publishing articles criticizing the Carlisle Indian School. She resented the degradation the students were subjected to, from forced Christianity to severe punishment for speaking in native languages. She was criticized for this at the time because many felt she showed no gratitude for the kindness and support that white people had given her in her education.
Of her literary works, Bonnin's "Why I Am a Pagan" perhaps best explains her religious beliefs. It was first published in the Atlantic in December of 1902, a time in which society was accustomed to and expectant of Native American essays about conformations to Christianity. Coupled with a chapter - "The Big Red Apples" - from Impressions of an Indian Childhood, the essay makes a case against traditional and religious Christianity. The two works are fascinating, and the dynamic they form expresses the indignations suffered by the Native Americans at the hands of Christians.
Book results for Gertrude Bonnin Zitkala-Sa
American Indian Stories - by Zitkala Sa - 146 pages
American Indian Stories Legends and Other Writings - by Zitkala Sa - 328 pages
Dreams and Thunder: Stories Poems and The Sun - by Zitkala Sa - 169 pages
Talking Back to Civilization By Frederick E. Hoxie
"LONG before I ever heard of Christ, or saw a white man, I had learned from an untutored woman the essence of morality. With the help of dear Nature herself, she taught me things simple but of mighty import. I knew God. I perceived what goodness is. I saw and loved what is really beautiful. Civilization has not taught me anything better!"
Eastman, Charles Alexander, 1858-1939. (The Soul of the Indian).