Zitkala-Sa’s 145th Birthday

Zitkala-Sa’s 145th Birthday

Zitkala-Sa’s 145th Birthday – Today’s Doodle—illustrated by American Indian guest artist of Osage, Kaw, Cheyenne River Sioux, and European heritage, Chris Pappan—celebrates the 145th birthday of writer, musician, teacher, composer, and suffragist Zitkala-Ša, a member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota (Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate or “People of the End Village”). A woman who lived resiliently during a time when the Indigenous people of the United States were not considered real people by the American government, let alone citizens, Zitkala-Ša devoted her life to the protection and celebration of her Indigenous heritage through the arts and activism.

On this day in 1876, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota/Lakȟótiyapi for “Red Bird”)—also known as Gertrude Simmons—was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. At eight years old, she left the reservation to attend White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute, a missionary boarding school where her hair was cut against her will, she was forbidden to speak her Lakota/Lakȟótiyapi language, and she was forced to practice a religion she didn’t believe in. This was a common experience for thousands of Indigenous children in the wake of the Civilization Fund Act of 1819, which provided funding for missionaries and religious groups to create a system of Indian boarding schools that would forcibly assimilate Indigenous children. While she took interest in some of the experiences in her new environment, such as learning the violin, she resisted the institutional efforts to assimilate her into European American culture—actions she protested through a lifetime of writing and political activism.

Returning back home to her reservation, Zitkala-Ša chronicled an anthology of oral Dakota stories published as “Old Indian Legends” in 1901. The book was among the first works to bring traditional Indigenous American stories to a wider audience. Zitkala-Ša was also a gifted musician. In 1913, she wrote the text and songs for the first Indigenous American opera, The Sun Dance, based on one of the most sacred Sioux ceremonies.

In addition to her creative achievements, Zitkala-Ša was a lifelong spokesperson for Indigenous and women’s rights. As an activist, she co-founded and served as first president of the National Council of American Indians in 1926. Zitkala-Ša’s work was instrumental in the passage of historic legislation, such as the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924—granting citizenship to Indigenous peoples born in the United States—as well as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

Happy Birthday, Zitkala-Ša, and thank you for your efforts to protect and celebrate Indigenous culture for generations to come.


Guest Artist Q&A with Chris Pappan

Today’s Doodle was illustrated by American Indian guest artist of Osage, Kaw, Cheyenne River Sioux, and European heritage, Chris Pappan. Below, he shares his thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:


Q. Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?

A. My Grandmother was Lakota, so it was an honor to be able to help bring more recognition to another strong Lakota woman.


Q. What were your first thoughts when you were approached about working on this Doodle?

A. I was honored to bring recognition to our people and glad that Google is reaching out to Indigenous Native American artists for related content. 


Q. Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle? 

A. All of the elements in the artwork relate to Zitkala-Ša’s life in some way. Her Lakota name translates as “Red Bird,” she wrote an opera relating to the Sun Dance, and she was an accomplished musician—all reflected within the Doodle. She also witnessed great upheaval and change throughout her life, as symbolized by the tipis. The lettering for “Google” is based on a beadwork design from one of her traditional dresses.


Q. What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?

A.  I hope people realize that we can–and need to—speak for ourselves. The narrative of Native American history has been intentionally distorted for too long.

You can find more about Zitkala-Sa’s 145th Birthday on the official Google Doodle Page


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