Zitkala-Sa is a Sioux activist and writer, and the stories collected in this anthology represent the horrible and difficult experiences the Native Americans endured at the special schools created just for them by European missionaries. The schools, designed to wipe away the students' understanding of their own culture and heritage and to instill in them a sense of European history and heritage, instead tended to resemble manual labor camps rather than educational establishments. The author also includes stories based on experiences at Earlham College, far better and more tolerant than the "special" schools, and a college that took pride in its inclusive and respectful atmosphere, but nonetheless steered by the Quaker thinking of those who had established it.
The collection of stories combines fiction and autobiography; the author's early life on the Yankton Indian Reservation, the homeland of the Yankton sub-group of the Dakota Indians, with this difficult period at missionary school. It also includes stories told in the Sioux tradition. Throughout, Zitkala-Sa describes the constant pull between her ancestral heritage and modern European-American culture, and the last story in the collection is written from her perspective as an advocate for Native American rights.
As well as writing prolifically, Zitkala-Sa was also a gifted musician and wrote the songs and libretto for the first Native American opera under her "missionary given" name Gertrude Bonnin. It was a sub-genre of opera basically created by Sa/Bonnin; The Sun Dance was co-written with music professor William F. Hanson.
In addition to her work as a writer and musician, Zitkala-Sa also joined the Society of American Indians, an organization that fought for Native American rights, and she was the first president of the National Council of American Indians. She served on the board of the Indian Rights Association and wrote several articles that discussed the legal and political issues facing Native Americans. Her work was instrumental in providing a platform for Native American voices to be heard in the larger American public, and her legacy continues to inspire Native American activists today.