The Encyclopedia of North American Indians - Vol. 4

The Encyclopedia of North American Indians - Vol. 4

The Encyclopedia of North American Indians - Vol. 4

The Encyclopedia of North American Indians - Vol. 4


DELORIA, ELLA (1888–1971)

Ella Cara Deloria, who was also known as Anpetu Waste Win, was horn in the White Swan District of the Yankton Sioux Reservation. Her father was an Episcopal minister who established a mission on the Lakota Standing Rock Reservation, and her mother was a member of the Yankton Sioux. Deloria's father was of French ancestry, and she learned English and the Nakota dialect of the Sioux language fluently.

She is the aunt of well-known Native American author Vine Deloria, Jr. Because she was raised by Christian parents of both European and French ancestry, much of Ella Deloria's writing deals with the problems and struggles of individuals living in a world of competing cultures.

Deloria attended the All Saints Boarding School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Oberlin College in Ohio, and Columbia University in New York City, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1915. At Columbia, she worked with anthropologist Franz Boas translating a series of Lakota Sioux stories by George Bushotter. She taught at All Saints Boarding School from 1914 to 1916 and at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1923.

In 1927, Deloria resumed work with Boas on a project concerning Lakota traditional stories. She became frustrated with the project, however, when she was unable to document the authenticity of a collection of stories compiled by James Walker (now available in a publication entitled Lakota Myth, 1983). Deloria also worked with Boas on a work entitled Dakota Grammar, a dictionary of the Dakota language. This was published as Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 23, no. 2 (1941).

Much of Deloria's work is unpublished, including [Dakota Autobiographies] (c. 1937) and [Dakota Speeches] (1937?). Her published work includes Waterlily, a fictional ethnography written in the 1940s but not published until 1988, and Speaking of Indians (1944), an essay concerning Sioux culture.

In her fictional narrative Waterlily, Deloria explores cultural confrontation by examining specific people and their human struggles. The story portrays the lives of Waterlily and her mother, Blue Bird, members of a Lakota family on the Dakota plains.

During Waterlily's birth, her mother is forced to come to terms with the competing demands of childbirth and Lakota ritual. As a young woman, Waterlily must make a decision to break certain ceremonial rules in order to help a young man. Lowanla, for whom Waterlily shows a youthful romantic interest, is performing the ritual ceremony of the Sun Dance. Waterlily is thoroughly familiar with the rules of the ceremony, which restrict her participation.

In a moment of extreme emotional conflict, in which the demands of Lakota ceremony and the demands of her heart are at odds, Waterlily decides to go against traditional rules and secretly brings Lowanla a forbidden drink of water. Waterlily must eventually choose between tribal loyalty and love.

Through the course of the story, Waterlily and her mother are presented with many such decisions. Through these decisions, Deloria illustrates the complexity of her characters' lives and natures. In showing understanding of and sympathy for the complexity of human experience, Deloria emphasizes the similarities that reach across cultural boundaries rather than differences.

Throughout her writing, Deloria describes a wide variety of relationships from both Native and European-American perspectives. Her multicultural heritage and her vigorous interest in Siouan tradition give her the ability and insight to explore these compelling issues of cultural conflict.

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