Northern Plains Reservation Aid (formerly American Indian Relief Council)
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Biographies of Plains Indians

Gertrude Simmons Bonnin — 1876-1938

Born the year of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin was a writer and Native American activist during the early years of the 20th century. She was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota and attended a boarding school run by Quakers when she was young. She went on to attend Earlham College and eventually studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music.

While in Boston she began to write stories and essays, using the pseudonym Zitkala-Sa (Red Bird). Her writing criticized the current assimilation policies. Married to Richard Bonnin, also a Yankton Sioux, Gertrude Bonnin and her husband worked for the Office of Indian Affairs in Utah. She became secretary for the Society of American Indians and moved to Washington DC to lobby for the organization.

In 1926 she founded the National Council of American Indians which identified land and resource issues facing Indian people. She was instrumental in persuading The General Federation of Women’s Clubs to form their Indian Welfare Committee. The committee studied living conditions on the reservations and pressured the government to do a follow up investigation that eventually resulted in the Merriam Report. The report resulted in reforms in government policy. Bonnin also investigated the swindling of Native Americans in Oklahoma by settlers who came to the area after the discovery of oil. Throughout her lifetime Bonnin served as a spokesperson for self-determination and the values of Indian culture.

Her works include Old Indian Legends (1901), the autobiographical American Indian Stories (1921) and Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians: An Orgy of Grant and Exploitation of the Five Civilized Tribes - Legalized Robbery (1924).

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