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Zitkála-Šá (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), 1876-1938
A suffragist for Native American enfranchisement, Zitkála-Šá (“Red Bird”) was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. At age 8, she left with Quaker missionaries who named her Gertrude Simmons. Enjoying her education, especially music, she also experienced the despair of having to abandon her heritage. Graduating in 1895, she began teaching music at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. In 1900, Zitkála-Šá returned to the Yankton Reservation and was appalled at the poverty and encroachment of White Americans on reservation lands. To help preserve Native American heritage and overcome racist stereotypes, she began writing about her native culture. As Zitkála-Šá performed her research, she and her husband, Raymond Bonnin, worked at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They later joined the Society of American Indians, whose mission was to preserve Native American culture and promote full citizenship, a right not granted to them under the Fifteen Amendment (1870). Zitkála-Šá began speaking across the country and her efforts helped pass the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Yet, because it was up to states to define who could vote, Zitkála-Šá continued working until her death for full enfranchisement, improved education, and health care for Native Americans.