Zitkála-Šá Writer Musician Political Activist
Have you ever heard the melodies of the Sun Dance Opera? In 1913, the first American Indian Opera was written by Zitkála-Šá, or as her name translates from Lakota to English, Red Bird. Zitkála-Šá was a Yankton Dakota educator, writer, musician, and political activist in the early twentieth century.
She was among the population of indigenous American Indians that were removed from their tribes and ancestral homes to be schooled in the infamous Indian Schools famous for their cultural erasure. Zitkála-Šá eventually became a teacher of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School where she saw troubling inequities with the school’s purpose and curriculum. When she spoke out for change, her employment was terminated. She continued to write on the topic of indigenous rights and was co-founder and president of the National Council of American Indians, which helped lobby Congress to pass the Indian Citizen Act in 1924. Tirelessly, Zitkála-Šá worked to preserve American Indian cultural heritage through work with the Society of American Indians, political activism, and a broad range of academic and editorial writings. She also collected and compiled indigenous folk stories in an effort to preserve and continue cultural traditions.