Ella Cara Deloria is best known for her linguistic and ethnographic work on the Sioux Nation. Though not formally trained as anthropologist, since she was a trained as a teacher, she gained a reputation in the field. She brought a new perspective on her work, as she was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and part of a traditional Dakota Sioux family.
Deloria was born in the White Swan district of the Yankton Indian Reservation, South Dakota. Her parents were Mary Sully Bordeau Deloria and Philip Deloria, the family having Yankton Sioux, Irish, and French roots. Her father was one of the first Sioux to be ordained as an Episcopalian priest. Although Ella was the first child to the couple, they each had two daughters by previous marriages; her parent had three more children after her.
Deloria was brought up on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, at Wakpala, and was educated first at her father's mission school and All Saints Boarding School in Sioux Falls, and then a brief period at the University of Chicago at Oberlin College, Ohio, to which she had won a scholarship. After two years at Oberlinshe she moved to Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and graduated with a B.Sc. in 1915.
Throughout her professional life she suffered from not having had the money or the free time necessary to take an advanced degree, largely because of her commitment to the support of her family; her parents were elderly, and her sister suffered from brain tumors. In addition to her work in anthropology, Deloria had a number of jobs, including teaching dance and physical education, lecturing and giving demonstrations on Native American culture, working for the Camp Fire Girls and for the YWCA, and holding positions at the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, South Dakota, and (as assistant director) the W.H. Deloria had a stroke in 1970 and died the following year of pneumonia.
Her family spoke Dakota and Lakota dialects of the Sioux Language. It was through the understanding of the Dakota and Lakota dialects that Deloria would find her place in history. The Deloria family was devote Christians, but also followed the traditional ways of the Dakota people. Ella Deloria was dedicated to her family, which through extended kinship was great in numbers and this was one of the factors that hindered her professional education.
Waterlilly was perhaps the highest of Deloria's achievement; it can be described as a book that guides the outsider into the mental as well as the historical world of the nineteenth century Sioux. Deloria was more focused on kinship, tribal structure, and the role of women in her traditional society and this greatly shaped her work. From a feminist perspective, Deloria's work appears to demonstrate the strength of the women in a traditional structure that is greatly misunderstood.
In her efforts to research traditional culture and structure, Deloria conducted vast number of interviews with elders, women and tribal historians. She spent 1962-1966 working at the University of South Dakota, where she did her research, lectured, consulted and continued writing that she became an authority on the Dakota and Lakota Sioux. These, to a large extent, defined the content and perspective of her novel - Waterlilly. Through her extensive research work,