145 years ago, on Tuesday, February 22, 1876, noted Native-American Yankton Dakota author, editor, musician, composer, teacher, & political activist Zitkála-Šá “Red Bird” (1876-1938), was born on the Yankton Reservation in Dakota Territory.
Zitkála-Šá, also known by her Christian-missionary given name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was the first Native-American-Indian woman to compose an opera, “The Sun Dance,” which was co-written with noted opera composer William Frederick Hanson (1887-1969) of Brigham Young University who transcribed the traditional Sioux melodies that she played on her violin to create the first musical piece written with traditional Indian themes.
Zitkála-Šá was taken from her family to White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana where she was forced to pray like a Quaker & cut her hair; however, she was happy about being taught to read, write, & play the violin — an education that she soon put to good use. She attended Earlham College on a Scholarship, but a few weeks before graduation she had to leave the school on account of illness. Her prose & poetry & her musical compositions impressed many white people who were amazed that an Indian girl so lately removed from “savagery” could be such an accomplished artist.