IPR is featuring some of the many Native American and Indigenous pioneers and modern-day heroes to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. This post appears courtesy of NY History and National Park Service.
Zitkala-Ša was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Feb. 22, 1876. When she was a child, she was forced by federal agents to attend boarding schools, where she was made to assimilate. As a result of her traumatic experiences, Zitkala-Ša became a fierce critic of assimilation.
Zitkala-Ša formed the Society of American Indians to preserve Native culture while working toward full citizenship. She also worked with white suffrage groups and became active in the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1921 which worked to maintain a public voice for the concerns of diverse women. Zitkala-Ša created the Indian Welfare Committee of the Federation in 1924. The same year, she ran a voter registration drive for Native Americans, encouraging them to engage in the democratic process and support legislation that would benefit Native Americans. Zitkala-Ša also co-authored a piece called “Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians: An Orgy of Graft and Exploitation of the Five Civilized Tribes – Legalized Robbery” which would later be instrumental in pushing the government to investigate the exploitation of Native Americans for access to oil-rich lands.
In 1926, she and her husband Raymond Bonnin co-founded the intertribal National Council of American Indians (NCAI) which worked to unite the tribes across the United States to gain suffrage for all Native Americans. Zitkala-Ša served as president, fundraiser, and speaker for the NCAI until her death in 1938.
Many Fronts, One Struggle: Native American Women’s Activism Since the 19th Amendment
New York Historical Society
National Park Service