Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Stories of Survivance: The Work and Legacy of Zitkala-Ša

Settle, Stephanie
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University of Guelph

This dissertation's focus is Yankton Dakota writer, musician, and activist Zitkala-Ša (1876-1938), who also used the name Gertrude Bonnin, and who published a wide variety of works across multiple genres between the early 1900s and the 1930s. The guiding principle that shapes my analysis is White Earth Anishinaabe scholar Gerald Vizenor's term "survivance." Most illuminating to me, working from the position of a settler scholar, is how Vizenor describes the ways that Indigenous storytellers remain alive in the impact their stories have on others who share them. One of the driving questions of my research is what role collaboration played in Zitkala-Ša's survivance, and the survivance of her work. She was involved in many forms of collaboration, across genres and across cultures, and this dissertation seeks knowledge and understanding about how these different forms of connection to other artists and to her audience affected her artistic processes. Building on previous scholarship on Zitkala-Ša, my primary methodology in analyzing these texts is close reading of archival, published, and performed materials that were developed by or in connection to Zitkala-Ša, while also taking care to position these works within their historical contexts, and taking guidance from Indigenous critical analysis and Indigenous artists as much as possible. This dissertation first works to build an understanding of the legacy of Zitkala-Ša’s work through asking what it means to contemporary Indigenous women artists, particularly the Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, whose 2007 theatrical production The Only Good Indian... included a recovery and embodiment of Zitkala-Ša by researcher and performer Michelle St. John (Wampanoag). Building on that knowledge, it continues to analyze Zitkala-Ša's collaboration with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists across multiple genres, and finally considers her textual adaptations of orature within the context of her relationships with other Indigenous intellectuals of her era. Studying the relationships that Zitkala-Ša formed with her collaborators and audiences has allowed me to understand her survivance into the present, and the significance of the legacy that she built.

Indigenous literature, Indigenous theatre, Indigenous opera, Indigenous activism