Ella Cara Deloria

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Ella Cara Deloria
Aŋpétu Wašté Wiŋ, "Beautiful Day Woman"
Ella Deloria.jpg
Born(1889-01-31)January 31, 1889
White Swan district of the Yankton Indian Reservation, South Dakota
DiedFebruary 12, 1971(1971-02-12) (aged 82)
EducationEducated at her father's mission school and All Saints Boarding School
Alma materOberlin College; B.Sc., Teachers College, Columbia University, 1915
OccupationEducator, anthropologist, ethnographer, linguist, and novelist
Known forRecording Sioux oral history and legends; 1940 novel, Waterlilies; fluent in Dakota, and Lakota[citation needed] dialects of Sioux, and Latin.
Parent(s)Mary (or Miriam) Sully Bordeaux Deloria and Philip Joseph Deloria
RelativesSister Susan; brother, Vine V. Deloria, Sr.; Nephew, Vine Deloria, Jr.
AwardsIndian Achievement Award, 1943; Ella C. Deloria Undergraduate Research Fellowship established in her honor

Ella Cara Deloria (January 31, 1889 – February 12, 1971), (Yankton Dakota), also called Aŋpétu Wašté Wiŋ (Beautiful Day Woman), was an educator, anthropologist, ethnographer, linguist, and novelist of European American and Native American (American Indian) ancestry. She recorded Native American oral history and legends, and she also contributed to the study of Native American languages. According to María Eugenia Cotera, Deloria was "a pre-eminent expert on D/L/Nakota cultural religious, and lingustic practices."[1] In the 1940s, Deloria wrote a novel titled Waterlily, which was published in 1988, and republished in 2009.[2][3][4]


Deloria was born in 1889 in the White Swan district of the Yankton Indian Reservation, South Dakota.[2] Her parents were Mary (or Miriam) (Sully) Bordeaux Deloria and Philip Joseph Deloria,[4] the family having Yankton Dakota, English, French and German roots. (The family surname goes back to a French trapper ancestor named Francois-Xavier Delauriers.) Her father was one of the first Sioux to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her mother was the daughter of Alfred Sully, a general in the US Army, and a Métis Yankton Sioux. Ella was the first child to the couple, who each had several daughters by previous marriages. Her full siblings were sister Susan (also known as Mary Sully)[5] and brother Vine Deloria Sr., who became an Episcopal priest like their father.

Deloria was brought up among the Hunkpapaya and Sihasapa Lakota people[1] on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, at Wakpala, and was educated first at her father's mission school, St. Elizabeth's.[6] and All Saints Boarding School[7] She went to a boarding school in Sioux Falls.[2] After graduation, she attended Oberlin College, Ohio, to which she had won a scholarship. After two years at Oberlin, Deloria transferred to Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and graduated with a B.Sc. in 1915.[4]

She went on to become

"one of the first truly bilingual, bicultural figures in American anthropology, and an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and spirit who pursued her own work and commitments under notoriously adverse conditions. At one point she lived out of a car while collecting material for Franz Boas."[8]

Throughout her professional life, she suffered from not having the money or the free time necessary to take an advanced degree. She was committed to the support of her family. Her father and step-mother were elderly, and her sister Susan depended on her financially.

In addition to her work in anthropology (of which more below), Deloria had a number of jobs, including teaching (dance and physical education at Haskell Indian Boarding School[4]), lecturing and giving demonstrations (on Native American culture), and working for the Camp Fire Girls and for the YWCA as a national health education secretary.[9] She also held positions at the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, and as assistant director at the W.H. Over Museum in Vermillion. Her brother, Vine V. Deloria, Sr., was an Episcopal priest, noted for his charisma and superb storytelling. He became disillusioned with racism within the Episcopal Church. Her nephew was Vine Deloria, Jr., who became a firebrand writer, activist, and intellectual.[6]

Deloria had a series of strokes in 1970,[10] dying the following year of pneumonia.

Work and achievements[edit]

Deloria met Franz Boas while at Teachers College, and began a professional association with him that lasted until his death in 1942.[9] Boas recruited her as a student, and engaged her to work with him on the linguistics of Native American languages.[11] She also worked with Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, prominent anthropologists who had been graduate students of Boas. For her work on American Indian cultures, she had the advantage of fluency in the Dakota, and Lakota dialects of Sioux,[12] in addition to English and Latin.

Her linguistic abilities and her intimate knowledge of traditional and Christianized Sioux culture, together with her deep commitment both to American Indian cultures and to scholarship, allowed Deloria to carry out important, often ground-breaking work in anthropology and ethnology. She also translated into English several Sioux historical and scholarly texts, such as the Lakota texts of George Bushotter (1864-1892), the first Sioux ethnographer; and the Santee texts recorded by Presbyterian missionaries Gideon and Samuel Pond, brothers from Connecticut.

In 1938–39, Deloria was one of a small group of researchers commissioned to do a socioeconomic study on the Navajo Reservation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs;[13] it was funded by the Phelps Stokes Fund. They published their report, entitled The Navajo Indian Problem. This project opened the door for Deloria to receive more speaking engagements, as well as funding to support her continued important work on Native languages. In 1940, she and her sister Susan went to Pembroke, North Carolina to conduct some research among the self-identified Lumbee of Robeson County.[13] The project was supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal Farm Security Administration.

Since the late 19th century, these mixed-race people, free before the Civil War as free people of color had been recognized as an Indian tribe by the state of North Carolina, which allowed them to have their own schools, rather than requiring them to send their children to schools with the children of freedmen. They were seeking federal recognition as a Native American tribe. Deloria believed she could make an important contribution to their effort for recognition by studying their distinctive culture and what remained of an Indian language. In her study, she conducted interviews with a range of people in the group, including women about their use of plants, food, medicine, and animal names. She came very close to completing a dictionary of what may have been their original language before they adopted English.

She also assembled a successful pageant with, for and about the Robeson County Indians in 1940 that depicted their origin account. At that time they claimed to be descended from English colonists of the Lost Colony of the Outer Banks region in North Carolina and Croatan Indians.[14] A scheduled 1941 performance was cancelled when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.

Deloria received grants for her research from Columbia University, the American Philosophical Society, the Bollingen Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Doris Duke Foundation, from 1929-1960s. She was compiling a Lakota dictionary at the time of her death. Her extensive data has proven invaluable to researchers since that time.[11]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Selected works[edit]


  • 1993: Ella Deloria's Iron Hawk (single narrative), ed. Julian Rice. University of New Mexico Press; ISBN 0-8263-1447-3
  • 1994: Ella Deloria's the Buffalo People (collection of stories), ed. Julian Rice. University of New Mexico Press; ISBN 0-8263-1506-2
  • 2006: Dakota Texts, Introduction by Raymond J. DeMallie. University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 0-8032-6660-X
  • 2009: Waterlily, New edition. University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 978-0-8032-1904-5


  • 1928: The Wohpe Festival: Being an All-Day Celebration, Consisting of Ceremonials, Games, Dances and Songs, in Honor of Wohpe, One of the Four Superior Gods... Games, of Adornment and of Little Children
  • 1929: The Sun Dance of the Oglala Sioux (American Folklore Society)
  • 1932: Dakota Texts (reprinted 2006, Bison Books; ISBN 0-8032-6660-X)
  • 1941: Dakota Grammar (with Franz Boas) (National Academy of Sciences; reprinted 1976, AMS Press, ISBN 0-404-11829-1)
  • 1944: Speaking of Indians (reprinted 1998, University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 0-8032-6614-6)


  1. ^ a b Cotera, María Eugenia (2008). "Standing on the Middle Ground: Ella Deloria's Decolonizing Methodology". Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, and the Poetics of Culture. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 41–69. ISBN 978-0-292-79384-2.
  2. ^ a b c "Ella Cara Deloria: Sioux scholar, ethnographer, writer, and translator". Britannica.
  3. ^ "Ella Cara Deloria: Anpetu Wastéwin (Beautiful Day Woman)". Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center.
  4. ^ a b c d "Deloria, Ella Cara". Encyclopedia.com.
  5. ^ Deloria, Philip J. (2019). Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract. University of Washington Press. p. 47. ISBN 9780295745046.
  6. ^ a b Gardner, Susan. "Piety, Pageantry and Politics on the Northern Great Plains: an American Indian Woman Restages Her Peoples' Conquest." "The Forum on Public Policy," online journal of the Oxford Round Table, Harris Manchester College, Oxford, England. Winter 2007 edition
  7. ^ Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-92038-4.
  8. ^ a b "Ella C. Deloria Undergraduate Research Fellowship". Department of Anthropology, Columbia University. Retrieved 2013-08-07.
  9. ^ a b Cotera, Maria (2010). Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita Gonzalez, and the Poetics of Culture. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292782488.
  10. ^ Deloria, Vine; Deloria, Ella (1998). "Introduction". Speaking of Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. xix.
  11. ^ a b Jan Ullrich, New Lakota Dictionary. (2008, Lakota Language Consortium). ISBN 0-9761082-9-1. (includes a detailed chapter on Deloria's contribution to the study of the Lakota language)
  12. ^ "Ella Deloria Archive". American Indian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University.
  13. ^ a b Hoefel, Roseanne (Spring 2001). "Different by Degree: Ella Cara Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, and Franz Boas Contend with Race and Ethnicity". American Indian Quarterly. 25 (2): 181–202. doi:10.1353/aiq.2001.0023. JSTOR 1185948.
  14. ^ Deloria Jr., Vine. Introduction. Speaking of Indians. ed. by Ella C. Deloria. 1944 [Friendship Press]. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1998: ix-xix
  15. ^ "Miss Ella C. Deloria Honored," New York Times, 23 September 1943

References and further reading[edit]

  • Jan Ullrich, New Lakota Dictionary. (2008, Lakota Language Consortium). ISBN 0-9761082-9-1. (includes a detailed chapter on Deloria's contribution to the study of the Lakota language)
  • Bea Medicine, "Ella C. Deloria: The Emic Voice." MELUS 7.4 (Winter, 1980): 23–30.
  • Raymond J. DeMallie. Afterword. Waterlily. 2009. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-1904-5.
  • Philip J. Deloria, "Ella Deloria (Anpetu Waste)." Encyclopedia of North American Indians: Native American History, Culture, and Life from Paleo-Indians to the Present. Ed. Frederick E. Hoxie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1996. 159–61. ISBN 0-3956-6921-9.
  • Janet L. Finn, "Walls and Bridges: Cultural Mediation and the Legacy of Ella Deloria." Frontiers 21.3 (2000): 158–82.
  • Julian Rice, Deer Women and Elk Men: The Lakota Narratives of Ella Deloria. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8263-1362-0.
  • Julian Rice, Ella Deloria's Iron Hawk. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8263-1447-5.
  • Julian Rice, Ella Deloria's The Buffalo People. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8263-1506-2.
  • Julian Rice, Before the Great Spirit: The Many Faces of Sioux Spirituality. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8263-1868-1. (Includes extended quotation and analysis of stories and cultural commentary from several of Deloria's unpublished manuscripts.)
  • Julian Rice, "An Ohunkakan Brings a Virgin Back to Camp," American Indian Quarterly 7.4 (Fall, 1983): 37–55.
  • Julian Rice, "Why the Lakota Still Have Their Own: Ella Deloria's Dakota Texts." Western American Literature 19.3 (November, 1984): 205–17. Reprinted in Native North American Literature. Ed. Janet Witalec. New York: Gale Research, Inc., 1994: 243–44.
  • Julian Rice, "Encircling Ikto: Incest and Avoidance in Dakota Texts," South Dakota Review 22.4 (Winter, 1984): 92-103.
  • Julian Rice, "How Lakota Stories Keep the Spirit and Feed the Ghost." American Indian Quarterly 8.4 (Fall, 1984): 331–47.
  • Julian Rice, Lakota Storytelling: Black Elk, Ella Deloria, and Frank Fools Crow. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. ISBN 0-8204-0774-7.
  • Julian Rice, "Narrative Styles in Dakota Texts," in On the Translation of Native American Literatures. Ed. Brian Swann. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992: 276–92. ISBN 1-56098-074-5. Reprinted in Sky Loom: Native American Myth, Story, and Song. Ed. Brian Swann. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 73–93. ISBN 978-0-8032-4615-7.
  • Julian Rice, "Ella C. Deloria." Dictionary of Literary Biography: Native American Writers of the United States. Ed. Kenneth Roemer. Detroit, Washington, D.C., London: Bruccoli Clark Layman, Gale Research, 1997. 47–56. ISBN 0-8103-9938-5. (Includes an extended analysis of Waterlily.)
  • Julian Rice, "It Was Their Own Fault for Being Intractable: Internalized Racism and Wounded Knee," American Indian Quarterly. 22.1 & 2 (Winter/Spring 1998): 63–82. (An interview Deloria conducted twenty years after the massacre at Wounded Knee with the mixed-blood wife of a white employee at the Pine Ridge Agency. Deloria condemns her condescending attitude toward the victims.)
  • Julian Rice, "Akicita of the Thunder: Horses in Black Elk's Visions." In The Black Elk Reader. Ed. Clyde Holler. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000. 59–76. ISBN 0-8156-2835-8. (Includes an analysis of "The Gift of the Horse" from Deloria's Dakota Texts.)
  • Julian Rice, "Double-Face Tricks a Girl." In Voices from Four Directions: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America. Ed. Brian Swann. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 397–407. ISBN 0-8032-4300-6.
  • Raymond A. Bucko, "Ella Cara Deloria", in Encyclopedia of Anthropology ed. H. James Birx (2006, SAGE Publications; ISBN 0-7619-3029-9)
  • Janette Murray, Ella Deloria: A Biographical Sketch and Literary Analysis (Ph.D. thesis, 1974 — University of North Dakota)
  • Anne Ruggles Gere, "Indian Heart/White Man's Head: Native-American Teachers in Indian Schools, 1880–1930", History of Education Quarterly 45:1, Spring 2005
  • Cotera, María Eugenia. Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, And the Poetics of Culture. Array Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.
  • Gibbon, Guy E. The Sioux: the Dakota And Lakota Nations. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003.
  • Rosenfelt, W. E. The Last Buffalo: Cultural Views of the Plains Indians: the Sioux Or Dakota Nation. Minneapolis: Denison, 1973.
  • Sligh, Gary Lee. A Study of Native American Women Novelists: Sophia Alice Callahan, Mourning Dove, And Ella Cara Deloria. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2003.
  • I Remain Alive: the Sioux Literary Renaissance
  • Penelope Myrtle Kelsey. "Tribal Theory in Native American Literature.".2008. University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 978-0-8032-2771-2
  • Susan Gardner. "'Weaving an Epic Story': Ella Cara Deloria's Pageant for the Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina, 1940-41.""Mississippi Quarterly" 60:1, Winter 2006–07,33-57.
  • Susan Gardner. 'Speaking of Ella Deloria: Conversations with Joyzelle Gingway Godfrey, 1998-2000." "American Indian Quarterly" 24:3 Summer 2000: 456–81.
  • Susan Gardner. "'Although It Broke My Heart to Cut Some Bits I Fancied': Ella Deloria's Original Design for Waterlily[permanent dead link].' "American Indian Quarterly" 26:4 Summer and Fall 2003, vols. 3 and 4, 667–696.
  • Susan Gardner. "Introduction," Waterlily new edition. 2009. University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 978-0-8032-1904-5
  • Susan Gardner. "Piety, Pageantry and Politics on the Northern Great Plains: an American Indian Woman Restages Her Peoples' Conquest[permanent dead link]." "The Forum on Public Policy," the online journal of the Oxford Roundtable [Harris Manchester College, Oxford, England]. Winter 2007 edition.
  • Susan Gardner. "Subverting the Rhetoric of Assimilation: Ella Cara Deloria (Dakota) in the 1920s," Hecate 39.1/2 (2014): 8-32.
  • Kamala Visweswaran. Fictions of Feminist Ethnography.(1994, Univ. of Minnesota Press; ISBN 0-8166-2337-6)
  • Alice Gambrell. Women Intellectuals, Modernism, and Difference: Transatlantic Culture, 1919–1945. (1997, Cambridge Univ. Press; ISBN 0-521-55688-0)
  • Ruth J. Heflin. 'I Remain Alive:' The Sioux Literary Renaissance. (2000, Syracuse Univ. Press; ISBN 0-8156-2805-6)

External links[edit]

  • Ella Deloria Archive. American Indian Studies and Research Institute, Indiana University Bloomington.