Gertrude Bonnin belonged to a generation of Indian leaders who survived an educational process whose aim was to assimilate Indian youth into European American life. Bonnin put her education to use by urging tolerance for Indian cultural differences and by trying to reform prevailing policy regarding Indians.
The daughter of a Sioux woman, Ellen Simmons, and a European American settler, Bonnin left Sioux country at the age of eight to attend a Quaker missionary school for Indians in Indiana and went on to attend Earlham College. As a young woman, Bonnin taught at the Carlisle Indian School, studied violin at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and began a career as a writer. She published autobiographical essays and stories based on tribal legends in The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s. Bonnin’s publications include two books, Old Indian Legends (1901) and American Indian Stories (1921).
After returning to live among the Sioux in the early twentieth century, Bonnin married a Sioux employee of the Indian service, Raymond Talesfase Bonnin, and joined the Society of American Indians. In 1916, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she spent the rest of her life as an activist, writer, and lecturer. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Bonnin worked with numerous groups involved in reforming Indian policy and, in 1926, she organized the National Council of American Indians.