Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Teaching & Learning
Ella Deloria, a Dakota born on the Yankton Reservation in 1888, was a teacher, speaker, author, and researcher in linguistics and anthropology. One purpose of this study was to present a description of her family background, education, and career. Most of this information was gathered by interviews with her relatives, friends, former students, and professional acquaintances. A second purpose was to analyze her writings on the language and culture of the Dakota people and to determine her contributions to existing publications by others.
The ancestors of Ella Deloria played important roles in the history of South Dakota. Her great-grandfather, Philippe des Lauriers, a French explorer, established one of the first trading posts among the Yanktons in about 1822 near the present city of Fort Pierre. Francis Deloria, the son of Philippe des Lauriers and Siha Sapewin of the Blackfoot band, was a famous medicine man and spiritual leader among the Yanktons. He also traveled to Washington, D. C., and attempted to establish peace between the government and the Dakota tribes. His son, Philip Deloria, Ella Deloria's father, relinquished his tribal leadership position and, in the late 1880s, became an Episcopal Missionary to the Teton Dakotas near Wakpala, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock Reservation. Reverend Philip Deloria established the Mission School, St. Elizabeth's, which Ella Deloria attended as a child. She grew up learning the language, legends, and customs of the Dakota people from her father and the many others who attended the church and school.
When she was fourteen, Ella Deloria attended All Saints School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. After being awarded a scholarship for her academic achievement in 1911, she attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, for two years. Leaving Oberlin, she went to Columbia University and received her B.A. in 1914. While she was at Columbia she taught Lakota language to students under the direction of Dr. Franz Boas of the Department of Anthropology. After teaching briefly at All Saints, she returned to St. Elizabeth's Mission at Wakpala. Then, from 1923 to 1928, Ella Deloria was a physical education instructor at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. While she was there, she was contacted by Boas who offered her a position as a research specialist in linguistics and ethnology with Columbia University. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, she recorded and translated statements made by native speakers of three Siouan dialects: Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, She also spent part of her time in New York translating manuscripts and serving as a consultant for the students and professors of anthropology at Columbia University. After the death of Boas in 1942, Ella Deloria continued her research and writing in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
From 1955 to 1958 Ella Deloria served as the director of St. Elizabeth's Mission School. The students attended school in nearby Wakpala but Ella Deloria and her sister, Susie, were responsible for the food, lodging and care of the forty Indian students who lived there. In 1961, Ella Deloria was appointed research associate at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. She continued her research in anthropology, but her main project was a dictionary of Lakota language begun about forty years earlier when she was still associated with Columbia University. She frequently accepted invitations to lecture at schools and attended workshops on Dakota history, values, and culture. Several times a year for nearly ten years she spoke or taught, classes at St. Mary's Indian School for Girls at Springfield, South Dakota. Ella Deloria died at Tripp, South Dakota, at the age of eighty-three.
Ella Deloria's most significant works are Dakota Texts, published in 1932; Dakota Grammar, written with Franz Boas and published in 1941; and Speaking of Indians, published in 1944. Dakota Texts includes sixty-four tales in the original Dakota, Lakota and Nakota dialects. Each tale is accompanied by a free translation and a literal translation is also given for each of the first sixteen stories. Some of the selections were translations of manuscripts collected by others in the 1800s; others were recorded by Ella Deloria from native informants. This volume, which includes extensive linguistic and anthropological notes, is the most complete collection of Dakota literature. Dakota Grammar is a description of the language in recorded texts by idiomatic speakers in terms of its own syntax, phonology, and morphology. Speaking of Indians is an ethno-history of the Dakota, their customs and ceremonies, and their adjustments to modern life. Ella Deloria's explanation of the traditional tiyospaye (camp circle), kinship system, and Dakota values is a sensitive account based on experience as well as research. Other published works by Ella Deloria are ''The Sun Dance of the Oglala Sioux" in the Journal of American Linguistics (1929); "Notes on the Dakota, Teton Dialect," in the International Journal of American Linguistics (1933); "Dakota Treatment of Murderers" in the American Philosophical Society Proceedings (1944); "Short Dakota Texts, Including Conversations" in the International Journal of American Linguistics (1954) ; and four articles in the Museum News published at the University of South Dakota—"The Origin of the Courting Flute" (1961); “Easter Day at a Yankton Dakota Church" (1962); "Some Notes on the Yankton" (1967); and "Some Notes on the Santee" (1967). Collections of Ella Deloria’s unpublished manuscripts are housed at the American philosophical Society Library at Philadelphia and the Institute of Indian Studies at the University of South Dakota. Ella Deloria’s Lakota dictionary manuscript is being prepared for publication. It consists of approximately 5,000 entries with definitions, dialectic variations, etymologies, and examples of usage.
Ella Deloria’s works are frequently cited in publications by other authors. Among those who acknowledged her contributions to their work are Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ruth Bunzel, and Jeannette Mirsky—all of Columbia University. She is also cited in two more recent publications: The Sioux: Life and Customs of a Warrior Society by Royal B. Hassrick, and The Modern Sioux: Social Systems and Reservation Culture edited by Ethel Nurge. Her nephew, Vine Deloria, Jr., is the author of several books on contemporary problems, such as Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) ; We Talk, You Listen (1970); and God is Red (1973).
Murray, Janette K., "Ella Deloria: A Biographical Sketch and Literary Analysis" (1974). Theses and Dissertations. 597.