Zitkala-Ša trod the unstable terrain
between radicalism, separatism,
assimilationism, and intermittent
conservatism…[She] challenges easy
categorization…. She did not lead a dual or
fractured life history. Rather, she moved
in, out, around, and between worlds….
--Cathy Davidson
Gertrude Käsebier
specialized in
Native Americans,
but was atypical in
that she gave them
an active role in
choosing their dress
and representation;
these images
emphasize her
subject’s multiple
Chosen by Harper’s Bazaar as one of the “Persons
Who Interest Us” in April 1900:
the article tracks her “progress toward
civilization” from “a veritable little savage
running wild over the prairie and speaking
no language but her own” to an Indian girl
of “beauty and many talents” who writes
with “much artistic feeling”
Historical Overview
• Treaty of Laramie (1868) establishes the “Great
Sioux Reservation” along w/ measures for its
• Battle of Little Big Horn (1876): unsuccessful
attempt to take over Sioux land in Montana
• Dawes Act (1887) assimilationist polices replaced
violent encroachment on land but were intended
to eradicate traditional tribal culture
• Massacre at Wounded Knee (1890): murder of
Sitting Bull and at least three hundred Sioux men,
women, and children
“Impressions of an Indian Childhood”
“the land of red apples”
Zitkala-Ša’s journey from reservation to
boarding school reverses geographically the
European immigrant’s journey from Europe
to New England and the west across America
that was happening at the same time. It
echoes and yet differentiates itself from the
impulse of the world’s diverse (primarily
white) populations to assimilate into a
heterogeneous—but also homogenized—
American culture.
–Cathy Davidson
“The Red Man’s America” (1917)
My country! Tis to thee,
Sweet land of Liberty,
My pleas I bring.
Land where OUR fathers died,
Whose offspring are denied
The Franchise given wide,
Hark, while I sing…
What makes Zitkala-Ša such a unique and
masterful writer is her ability to portray
the perceptions, assumptions, experiences
and customs of the Sioux while also
making the reader rethink the perceptions,
assumptions, experiences, and customs of
white, middle-class Americans.
--Cathy Davidson