American Indian Stories by Zitkala-Sa

American Indian Stories

By Zitkala-Sa

Copyright unknown, originally serialized in the Atlantic Monthly from January through March 1900 (Source Wikipedia) , Kindle edition, multiple formats are available from, ISBN for the Kindle version used is unknown

American Indian Stories by Zitkala-Sa offers a view into life for the American Indians, specifically the Dakota Sioux, near the turn of the twentieth century. There are multiple versions and formats of this book appearing on the website. I am unable to obtain an ISBN from the copy I have, so I cannot tell you which Kindle version it is, other than to affirm it came with no cover image and was $1.00 or less. I have a collection of old mythologies and legends on my Kindle for PC obtained from Amazon for little to nothing and this volume is among them. The lack of information on older volumes is a particular problem with Amazon’s Kindle versions. This difficulty is outweighed by the fact the electronic format makes widely available many obscure texts that would otherwise risk being lost.

American Indian Stories is rather short. An exact page count is unavailable because Kindle varies pages from a true text document like a .pdf format. It can be easily read in 8 – 10 hours.

American Indian Stories recounts in vivid detail the early childhood of Zitkala-Sa. She speaks of how free her life was and how much she loved it. Then, when she was eight she convinced her mother to allow her to go off to a mission school. Her mother was opposed to this idea. Zitkala-Sa’s older brother Dawee had gone off to school and thought it would be too difficult for her, still, between Zitkala-Sa’s own pleas and the belief that Zitkala-Sa would need to be prepared for the “white-man’s world” her mother finally assented to her leaving.

American Indian Stories does not go into great detail regarding Zitkala-Sa’s time at the missionary school, but from what detail it does provide it is easy to surmise her time there was not happy. When she returned home following her early years at school she found herself unable to fit into either her Native American world or the “white-man’s world,” after a time she returned to school to further her education.

American Indian Stories talks about her life at college briefly. It provides few details of her teaching years afterward. It gives no details of her writing time, but it does provide some insights into the deep resentment caused by white Americans of the time. The American Indian suffered great disenfranchisement at the hands of a government they tried to make peace with and they found themselves forced from their traditional lands and migrating ways onto reservations. Indians died in the process of the moves. No consideration was given to the sick among them and many, including Zitkala-Sa’s own sister and uncle perished because of these circumstances. The bitterness of heart suffered by people made to endure so much is unimaginable. We are given brief examples of it in American Indian Stories but it is apparent the feelings run deeper than the brief asides and stories of injustice.

American Indian Stories is a valuable work of American literature. It contains both auto-biographical accounts from Zitkala-Sa’s life and several tales from the Dakota Sioux treasury. You must pay attention to the titles of the sections so you know when the shift to the tales occurs otherwise you will not notice when the shift occurs and will find yourself confused when suddenly the story starts to speak about a male – I know I was.

What follows is an excerpt from American Indian Stories:

“I was a wild girl of seven. Loosely clad in a slip of brown buckskin, and light-footed with a pair of soft moccasins on my feet, I was as free as the wind that blew my hair, and no less spirited than a bounding deer. These were my mother’s pride,–my wild freedom and overflowing spirits. She taught me no fear save that of intruding myself upon others.

Having gone many paces ahead I stopped, panting for breath, and laughing with glee as my mother watched my every movement. I was not wholly conscious of myself, but was more keenly alive to the fire within. It was as if I were the activity, and my hands and feet were only experiments for my spirit to work upon.

Returning from the river, I tugged beside my mother, with my hand upon the bucket I believed I was carrying. One time, on such a return, I remember a bit of conversation we had. My grown-up cousin Warca-Ziwin (Sunflower), who was then seventeen, always went to the river alone for water for her mother. Their wigwam was not far from ours; and I saw her daily going to and from the river. I admired my cousin greatly. So I said: “Mother, when I am as tall as my cousin Warca-Ziwin, you shall not have to come to the river for water. I will do it for you.”

With a strange tremor in her voice I could not understand, she answered, “If the paleface does not take away from us the river we drink.”

“Mother, who is this bad paleface?” I asked.

“My little daughter, he is a sham—a sickly sham! The bronzed Dakota is the only real man.”

I looked up into my mother’s face while she spoke; and seeing her bite her lips I knew she was unhappy. This aroused revenge in my small soul. Stamping my foot on the earth, I cried aloud, “I hate the paleface that makes my mother cry!”

Setting the pail of water on the ground, my mother stooped, and stretching her left hand out on the level with my eyes, she placed her other arm about me; she pointed to the hill where my uncle and my only sister lay buried.

“There is what the paleface has done! Since then your father too has been buried in a hill nearer the rising sun. We were once very happy. But the paleface has stolen our lands and driven us hither. Having defrauded us of our land, the paleface forced us away.

“Well, it happened on the day we moved camp that your sister and uncle were both very sick. Many others were ailing; but there seemed to be no help. We traveled many days and nights; not in the grand, happy way that we moved camp when I was a little girl, but we were driven, my child, driven like a herd of buffalo. With every step, your sister, who was not as large as you are now, shrieked with the painful jar until she was hoarse with crying. She grew more and more feverish. Her little hands and cheeks were burning hot. Her little lips were parched and dry, but she would not drink the water I gave her. Then I discovered that her throat was swollen and red. My poor child, how I cried with her because the Great Spirit had forgotten us.

“At last, when we reached this western country, on the first weary night your sister died. And soon your uncle died also, leaving a widow and an orphan daughter, your cousin Warca-Ziwin. Both your sister and your uncle might have been happy with us today, had it not been for the heartless paleface.”

American Indian Stories by Zitkala-Sa offers a unique view into a world overlooked by society, and one that still persists in some degree to this day. Native Americans still face challenges unique to their minority status among white Americans. This novel helps bring some of the roots of this inequality to light. It is short, but I highly recommend reading it for its historical value. This is Pigeon Gold.

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