In addition to photographing the Sioux performers sent by Buffalo Bill Cody to her studio, Käsebier was able to arrange a portrait session with Zitkala-Sa, “Red Bird,” also known as Gertrude Simmons (1876-1938), a Yankton Sioux woman of Native American and white ancestry. She was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, like many of the Sioux traveling with the Wild West show. She was well educated at reservation schools, the Carlisle Indian School, Earlham College in Indiana, and the Boston Conservatory of Music. Zitkala Sa became an accomplished author, musician, composer, and dedicated worker for the reform of United States Indian policies.
Käsebier photographed Zitkala-Sa in tribal dress and western clothing, clearly identifying the two worlds in which this woman lived and worked. In many of the images, Zitkala Sa holds her violin or a book, further indicating her interests. Käsebier experimented with backdrops, including a Victorian floral print, and photographic printing. She used the painterly gum-bichromate process for several of these images, adding increased texture and softer tones to the photographs. (quoted from NMAH)
Zitkála-Šá was a pioneer in a generation of Indian rights activists who had graduated from mission and government schools, where children were forbidden from speaking their indigenous native languages. Working together, these intellectual activists representing various tribal backgrounds used their formal educations and flawless English to fight U.S. federal Indian policy and demand social justice. At ease in mainstream and urban (i.e., white) society, they formed professional organizations. For example, the Society of American Indians, founded in 1907, was the first national all-Indian organization to advocate for Indian rights. As one of its leaders, Zitkála-Šá tirelessly fought for Native American citizenship rights, and she was described as “a Jeanne D’Arc to lead her people into citizenship.” Zitkála-Šá later founded one of the most important Native rights organizations, the National Council of American Indians. [quoted from source]