American Indian Stories

American Indian Stories

American Indian Stories

American Indian Stories


Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Bonnin) was one of the early Indian writers to record tribal legends and tales from oral tradition. Impressions of an Indian Childhood describes her first eight yeas on the Yankton Reservation, where she was born in 1876. Her schooling in Indiana revealed a gift for writing that led in 1901 to the publication of Old Indian Legends, also a Bison Book. For the rest of her rife, this Sioux was in the poignant but creative position of trying to bridge the gap between her own culture and the dominant white one, unable to return fully to the former or to enter fully into the latter.

These pieces, largely autobiographical, were first collected and published in 1921. With their reissue, Zitkala-Ša takes her rightful place among such native interpreters of Sioux culture as Charles A. Eastman and Luther Standing Bear



By Dexter Fisher

The nineteenth century marked a period of dramatic upheaval for many American Indian tribes, who, in the wake of America's great expansion westward, found themselves dispossessed of their ancestral lands, depleted in numbers, and confined to reservations. Fearful that their oral traditions would disappear forever as the tribal community became more and more fragmented under the demoralizing conditions of reservation life, some American Indians began to write down the legends and folktales of their tribes, as well as their personal narratives, in an effort to preserve their history and culture for posterity. Writing became a means not only to perpetuate tradition in the face of cultural disintegration but also a chance for Native Americans to tell their side of the story to a wider audience. By the end of the nineteenth century, a written literature based on tribal oral traditions was beginning to emerge that would reach fruition in the 1960s and 1970s in the works of contemporary American Indians.

Zitkala-Ša, a Sioux of the Yankton band, is one of the early Indian writers who attempted to make the transition from written to oral form and to bridge the gap between tradition and assimilation. Born in 1876, Zitkala-Ša published most of her work at the turn of the century. Her collection of traditional Sioux tales, Old Indian Legends, appeared in 1901, and the autobiographical essays that were to be collected later in American Indian Stories (1921) were initially published in Harpers and the Atlantic Monthly in 1900 and 1901.

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