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The Ghost Dance Essay

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The Ghost Dance

The Ghost Dance was a religious group which includes the belief system of Native Americans, accounted in 1980. Paiutes who were living in Mason Valley which is now U.S States of Nevada were know as “Tovusi-dakado” (Tovusi – Bulb and Dakado – Eaters). The Northern Paiute used to survive on pine nuts, fish and occasionally they used to go for wild hunts. Tovusi-dakado did not have any policatal organizations or officers to direct their group but blessed individuals used to arrange their festivals and activities for the entire group. In 1869, a Paiute man namely Hawthorne Wodziwob arranged a number of communities to tell his vision to the people resulting up to a promise from their people within 3 or 4 years. During his preaching a shocking typhoid clouted in 1867. This European disease killed one tenth of their populating which brought disorder to the economic system. A lot of families stopped to live their nomadic lifestyle which also included harvests for pine nuts and hunting games. Due to this reason a number of families with no option left went towards Virginia City for work.

 A ritual which was associated with the Ghost Dance religion was “round dance” or “circle dance”. This dance consisted of circular dance held in the order of an individual who directs the dance. An anthropologist, Leslie Spier, noted that series of the round dance were presented much by Pacific Northwest which also included Columbia plateau. Much of these rituals included Christian facets. During the pre-historic times, the impact of European on the native population has made complex problems to gain data of Northern American societies. The first anthropologist who studied the circle dance was James Mooney. According to him the rituals offered by Native Americans has striking similarities.

The Ghost Dance prophet namely Jack Wilson who was known as Wovoka experienced a vision in 1889 during a solar eclipse. This did not happen with him for the first time. The vision as narrated by Jack Wilson himself was that he was standing before God in Heaven and saw a number of his ancestors over there. God showed him a fine-looking land with hunting games and ordered him to tell his people that they should love each other and live peacefully with English people. He also affirmed that his people should not lie or steal and should not practice their old rituals linked with grief of their dead people. If his people followed these rules than they would stay united with each other in Heaven. In return, Jack proclaimed that there would be not adulthood, sickness or any kind of disease. Jack Wilson preached his people and told them to perform the circle dance in a proper way will bring happiness to the people who are living or dead. God also gave Jack the authority over weather and told him to be stay in charge for the affairs in United States, leaving President Harrison in East. He was also ordered by God to preach his message to his people and return home. Jack claimed that he has convinced the presence of God by telling him that every Indian in West will dance on the new dance that is “hasten the event” which means that every evil will leave Earth filled with faith, peace, food and love. The teachings by Jack Wilson were quickly accepted by his people and gave named their new religion “Dance in a Circle”. This name was however later interpreted as the Ghost Dance. (Alice Beck Kehoe, 1989)

The message preached by Jack Wilson was spread through out the western part of United States. When religious movement took place a lot of tribes sent its people to explore about the new prophet while other neighborhood tribes sent delegates and most of them left their homeland to preach his message. Mormons and Utah people also investigated about the Ghost Dance religious movement. Most of Wovoka’s believers understood the role played by him. Special garments known as Ghost Shirts rumored to have spiritual powers as well. Observers like James Mooney quarreled that costumes such as Mormon garment also believed that it would protect pious people from danger but others were not sure about the beginning of this belief. However, it is generally accepted that this concept was brought by the chief Kicking Bear or the Lakota Sioux in 1890. Another interpretation by Lakota was the idea of renewed Earth in which evils should be washed away. The main concept of his idea was to remove Anglo Americans from his lands different from Jacks interpretation. Nonetheless, in 1890, the government of United States broke a Lakota treaty to adjust the issues regarding the land of Lakota, Great Sioux Reservation located in South Dakota. The treaty included clear policies of breaking tribal relationship and Indians to live they white people want them to either peacefully or forcibly. Tribes were forced to be separated in family units on 320 acre land, enforced to do farming, send their children to boarding schools and raising livestock that forbade the culture and language of traditional Native American. To help Sioux, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) took responsibility to supply hunters, food and white farmers to teach them farming. Although the farming plan failed as it was difficult for Sioux farmers to cultivate crops in the region of semi-arid of South Dakota. By the end of 1980, the season of lesser amount of rainfall and intense heat made it clear that crops cannot be produced. On the other hand, government patience was running over time and as a result food supply for Sioux people was cut into half. After some time, Sioux began to starve due to the increased performance of Ghost Dance rituals which frightened the BIA agents who were granted 1000’s of troops organized for reservation. In 1870’s Lakota was besieged by the settlers who came to stay in their lands. A lot of white people wanted to claim about the Black Hills which was assigned to Lakota in 1868 under the Fort Laramie Treaty but Lakota was not prepared to sell his land which he thought was sacred. Frustrated by the negative response of Lakota to sell Black Hills in 1879, the English government imprisoned Lakota to their reservation. The situation was worsening up by 1889 as the Unite States failed to keep their promise to increase food supply and needs for Lakota after diminishing some of his land area.

As the formation of the Ghost Dance in 1890, preaching of Wovoka was spread all over to the plains where people adopted his advice expect Sioux. They were still angry with the reduction of their land and the broken land treaty. As a result, hatred for white man raised even more for the Sioux. Some of the people think that the Ghost Dance had played an important role in war against the whites though it was only spiritual dancing but some of the people misinterpreted that it’s a dance for war. As for Sioux, the Ghost Dance was hostility with the whites and a policy for a sudden war. Many of the tribal people outlawed the Ghost Dance by its philosophy of uprising the Indians. In 1980, October, Lakota of Rosebud and Pine Ridge defied their people and sustained to perform dance rituals by the belief that revitalization of earth will take place. Lakota reinterpretation for Wovoka’s preaching was to renew the Earth by removing whites. People were dancing at the extreme level which frightened the English government, setting off a terror amid the white people. Daniel F. Royer and Pine Ridge then called for military assistance to renovate terms with the Indians and restrain the anger for white people. In December 1890, an incident occurred which gave priority to the war at Wounded Knee Creek. The chief Sitting Bull, a tribal leader of Lakota, was assassinated on Standing Rock Reservation at his cabin by the Indian officials who tried to arrest him on the orders given by white government officials. This people fled towards Sitting Bull’s brother Big Foot due to fear and terror without knowing that Big Foot had already abandoned the Ghost Dance. After few days, Bid Foot become seriously ill with pneumonia as a result his people set off to hunt for shelter with another chief Red Cloud at the reservation. Big Foot battalions were escorted to Wounded Knee Creek where Colonel James H. Forsyth arrived with his 500 soldiers to place Hotchkiss guns in position all around the place. A rumor of deporting Indians to Oklahoma, an Indian territory, was send to Lakota which had repute of worse place then jail which Lakota thought was true though it was a mistake made the people of Big Foot actually made by the mistranslation. Next day, Lakota was reported to bring all the weapons they have possessed to prevent aggression. Black Coyote refused to sell weapons to the soldiers of Lakota as he was deaf. He was seized by the soldiers and was forced to give up the weapons which discharged during the struggle and shot went up in the air. Lakota fired the soldiers who were doing damage though the Indians went out of rifles resulting up to escape from the troops by setting out fire. In the end about 150 Lakota people were killed and 50 of them were wounded badly. As compared to English army, only 25 of them were dead and 39 were wounded. After the victory, U.S. military hired few civilians to bury the dead Lakota. When they arrived at the battle ground they found a deceased frozen due to freezing weather. All of the dead bodies were gathered and were placed in a single grace. According to a research, 4 of the babies were found alive who were wrapped up in their dead mother’s shawls. About eight four men, forty four women and eighteen children dead on battle ground while seven of them were badly wounded. Colonel Forsyth was condemned by General Nelson Miles. Army Court of Inquiry took responsibility due to the criticism heard for Forsyth. They did investigation but did not find any evidence in opposition to Forsyth as people did not uttered a word to protect them and their families. In the end, Forsyth accomplished the Secretary of War and was restored back to his designation to command of the 7th as well as 20 medals of honor were given to them. However, Wounded Knee was not the last conflict among the whites and Indians. A related battle also took place at Drexel Mission after the first war was over which resulted to the causalities of 6 white soldiers. The troop of Lakota dancers fled after they heard about the news of Wounded Knee. The troops were forced to surrender but they did not in return they burned several building and ambushed a squad until the 9th Cavalry arrived at the spot. (James Mooney, 1896)

The title “worthless words” was given to the Ghost Dance by the leader of Navajo in 1890. According to Alice Beck Kehoe, the movement did not achieved fervor as there was a need of social and economic satisfaction. Another fact about Navajo was the fear of spirits which was based on their own beliefs. However, Kehoe present the movement of the Ghost Dance by comparing it with the Wallace model of religious revitalization. The culture of Tovusi-dokado was a satisfactory cultural adaptation that ended in 1860. In 1880, the entire third period of the model is based up on cultural distortion increased by the government of United States. When Jack Wilson was introduced, the fourth period of Wallace model wrapped the cultural pattern of the society. The entire culture of Tovusi-dokado was established till now but soon American methods were adopted though they have still practice Paiute culture. (Alice Beck Kehoe, 1989)

Bibliography

Alice Beck Kehoe (1989), The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, University of Michigan, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

James Mooney (1896), The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890