The daughter of a Lakota mother and a white father, Gertrude Bonnin spent her early childhood on a reservation in South Dakota. As she pursued her education opportunities outside the reservation, she was increasingly troubled by pressures from the white world to disassociate herself from her ethnic heritage. In reaction, she turned to compiling an anthology of Native American lore, published in 1901 as Old Indian Legends. But the ultimate resolution of her identity crisis lay in her activism. By 1915, she was the leader in the drive to advance Native American interests, and in 1926 she founded the National Council of American Indians, which soon became a main force in the effort to make the government's policies toward Native Americans more just.
This image was made in 1898, while Bonnin was teaching at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where assimilation to mainstream culture was a goal.