By Toby McIntosh
Zitkála-Šá’s face will be on a quarter, the U.S. Mint recently announced, one of the five 2024 honorees for the American Women Quarters Program. It’s just a part of the continuing attention being given to the Native-American writer, musician and activist who lived in Lyon Park.
Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, a Yankton Sioux, lived on Barton Street in Lyon Park from 1926 until her death in 1938. She used the Lakota name Zitkála-Šá (pronounced: Zit-kah-la-sha). In 2020, Arlington County renamed the park at the corner of 7th and N. Highland streets in her honor.
In Minnesota, an opera about her was produced in 2022, an appropriate tribute, since she co-composed an opera in 1913 considered to be the first Native-American opera. “We are showing that Zitkála-Šá’s story is not a frozen moment in time—that she has continued to shape and inspire and evolve current society, specifically [that of] Indigenous peoples in North America, to this day,” said one composer. Recently, her music was the inspiration for a collection of 13 pieces by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Raven Chacon.
Native News Online included her on a list created for Native American Heritage Month, Five More Native Americans Who Shaped Culture, calling her “one of the most influential prominent Native activists of the 20th century.”
If you’d like to learn more about Zitkála-Šá, there’s a PBS show on her from 2020. The Arlington Public Library has several of her books, and a number about her, including one for younger children (“Red Bird Sings”).