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Zitkála-Šá/Gertrude Simmons Bonnin: Composer, Author & Indigenous Rights Activist

Zitkála-Šá portrait by artist Amelie Chabannes.

Grade Level Grades 6-12
Resource Type Activity

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Learn about Zitkála-Šá, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a Yankton Sioux author, composer, and indigenous rights activist in this video from the Unladylike2020 series.

Taken from her community at age 8 to attend a boarding school as part of the assimilationist policy of the U.S. government to educate Native American youth under the motto: "Kill the Indian to save the man," she used her education to advocate for American Indian rights. She trained as a violinist at the New England Conservatory of Music, and in 1913 wrote the libretto for what is considered the first Native American opera, The Sun Dance Opera. As an author, she published in prestigious national magazines such as Harper’s and The Atlantic, writing about American Indian struggles to retain tribal identities amid pressures to assimilate into European American culture.

She joined the Society of American Indians, edited its publication American Indian Magazine, and in 1926 co-founded the National Council of American Indians to lobby for voting rights, sovereignty rights, and the preservation of Native American heritage and ways of life. Support materials include discussion questions, research project ideas, and primary source analysis.

UNLADYLIKE2020 is a production of Unladylike Productions in association with THIRTEEN’s American Masters. UNLADYLIKE2020's collection of educational resources was created by The WNET Group’s Kids Media & Education Department with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

More information and resources available at: https://unladylike2020.com/ and https://ny.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/unladylike2020/

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Zitkála-Šá: Trailblazing American Indian Composer | Unladylike2020 | American Masters | PBS
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