American Indian Stories – Zitkála-Šá

It was summer on the western plains. Fields of golden sunflowers facing eastward, greeted the rising sun. Blue-Star Woman, with windshorn braids of white hair over each ear, sat in the shade of her log hut before an open fire. Lonely but unmolested she dwelt here like the ground squirrel that took its abode nearby, – both through the easy tolerance of the land owner. The Indian woman held a skillet over the burning embers. A large round cake, with long slashes in its center, was baking and crowding the capacity of the frying pan.

In deep abstraction Blue-Star Woman prepared her morning meal. “Who am I?” had become the obsessing riddle of her life. She was no longer a young woman, being in her fifty-third year. In the eyes of the white man’s law, it was required of her to give proof of her membership in the Sioux tribe. The unwritten law of heart prompted her naturally to say, “I am a being. I am Blue-Star Woman. A piece of earth is my birthright.”

It was taught for reasons now forgot that an Indian should never pronounce his or her name in answer to any inquiry. It was a probably a means of protection in the days of black magic. Be this as it may, Blue-Star Woman lived in times when this teaching was disregarded. It gained her nothing, however, to pronounce her name to the government official to whom she applied for her share of tribal land. His persistent question was always, “Who were your parents?”

Blue-Star Woman was left an orphan at a tender age. She did not remember them. They were long gone to the spirit-land, – and she could not understand why they should be recalled to earth on her account. It was another one of the old, old teachings of her race that the names of the dead should not be idly spoken. It had become a sacrilege to mention carelessly the name of any departed one, especially in matters of disputes over worldly possessions. The unfortunate circumstances of her early childhood, together with the lack of written records of a roving people, placed a formidable barrier between her and her heritage. The fact was events of far greater importance to the tribe than her reincarnation had passed unrecorded in books. The verbal reports of the old-time men and women of the tribe were varied, – some were actually contradictory. Blue-Star Woman was unable to find even a twig of her family tree.


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From “The Widespread Enigma Concerning Blue-Star Woman”,  American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá, 1921

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