Ella Cara Deloria

Portrait of a smiling woman
Ella Cara Deloria

Public Domain, posted to WikiCommons by Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center

Quick Facts
Očhéthi Šakówiŋ scholar, writer, ethnographer, educator, linguist
Place of Birth:
Yankton Sioux Reservation, SD
Date of Birth:
January 31, 1889
Place of Death:
Vermillion, SD
Date of Death:
February 12, 1971

Ella Cara Deloria or Anpetu Wastéwin (Beautiful Day Woman)

Ella Deloria was born January 31, 1889 on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Although her father was a Dakota Episcopal priest and she received a Euro-American education, she also spoke both Dakota and Lakota dialects fluently and learned traditional ways.

Deloria went on to graduate from Columbia Teacher's College in 1915, but not before meeting Franz Boas, the "father of American anthropology." It was the beginning of a 15-year-long collaboration during which time she helped him research the linguistics of Native American languages, translate the recorded Indigenous languages in 19th century texts, and provide valuable insights into the nuances of her culture.

Deloria did plenty her own research as well, interviewing tribal elders, writing Dakota grammar books, translating ceremonial texts, writing the novel 'Waterlily,' and conducting studies for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in regards to the Lumbee of Robeson county and socioeconomic challenges on the Navajo Reservation.

During the 1960's, Deloria continued to write while teaching at the University of South Dakota. She passed away on February 12, 1971 while in the process of creating a Lakota Dictionary. As she wrote in her novel Waterlily, "...a woman with a plan is persistent," and Deloria certainly proved to be just that. She preserved an enormous amount of invaluable linguistic and cultural information in service to her people that still serves as a foundation for researchers today.

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Last updated: August 31, 2020