Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Sister

Gertrude Simmons Bonnin
(February 22, 1876 - January 26, 1938)

This weeks Sunday sister is Getrude Simmons Bonnnin, better known by her tribe name Zitkala-Sa. The reason I have chosen her is because she was a crucial part of the American-Indian rights in the earlier part of this century. Born to a Sioux mother and a white American father, Getrude spent most of her younger life on the Yankton Reservation which is know known as South Dakota.

As she got older, she headed for a life of education. Although she took advantage of these educational opportunities, she realised that she was distancing herself from her native American culture. She then began teaching at Carlisle Indian School which was in Pennsylvania, where assimilation in white society was important. She likened her situation here to that of uprooted tree "I was shorn of my branches....The natural coat of bark which had protected my oversensitive nature which was scrapped off to the very quick". Being of mixed race during those times would have probably been quite confusing, especially when she was half white, but raised by her mother and therefore treated like a second-class citizen because of the darker tone of her skin. Native Americans also have very strong spiritual beliefs, and trying to practise these in a then modern Christian time would have been quite difficult.

In one of her books
American Indian Stories, she described a scene in the chapter titled "The Cutting of My Long Hair," which deals with her disconnection from white-American society.

During the breakfast of her first day at the Quaker school, her friend Judewin told her that their hair was to be cut by the teachers that day. Zitkala-Sa wrote, “when Judewin said, ‘we have to submit, because they are strong,’ I rebelled. ‘No, I will not submit’ I will struggle first!” She then snuck upstairs and found a place to hide under a bed so that they could not find her and “shingle” her hair. They found her. Zitkala-Sa wrote, “I remember being dragged out, though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.” (55) In the Native American culture that she came from, cutting or shingling one’s hair was symbolic for shame and/or mourning. - Wikipedia

In an effort to deal with her sense of un-belonging, she compiled a selection of Native American lore entitled Old Indian Legends under her Native American name Zitkala-Sa in 1901. Although this helped, she found that the ultimate resolution to her identity issues was involving herself in Native American rights. In 1916, she became secretary of the society of American Indians, and soon became one if it's most valuable spokepersons. 10 years later in 1926, she founded the National Council of American Indians which became one of the most successful groups to re-address the injustices of the American government's Indian policies. Of her readiness to challenge the federal system she said "sometimes I think I do not even fear God"



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