The Indian Ghost Dance

There is always a record of a “resistance” when a side is defeated, no matter the conflict. There can also be a rebellion. Sometimes it’s an actual rebellion, other times it is more symbolic. Rock n’ roll music was considered a kids’ rebellion against parents’ tastes in music, for example.

For the American Indians in the West, they had developed their own “flipping the finger” to the U.S. government in response to all of the expansion and military conflicts with the Western tribes during the 1800s.

Consider the Ghost Dance the rebellion.

The Ghost Dance started in the 1870s reportedly by a Nevada Paiute religious leader named Jack Wilson, but the Dance became a religious movement around the Western tribes by 1890, as many of the tribes had adopted some aspects of the Ghost Dance ritual into their own belief systems by accident.

The premise of the Ghost Dance is based on a vision that Jack Wilson had – a vision during a New Year’s Day solar eclipse in 1889 that called for an apocalypse that would destroy the whites and the Earth. Those who were spiritually-minded (according to Wilson) would be elevated and saved from destruction and would enjoy the new Earth when it was created in the previous natural pristine state the Indians enjoyed prior to white settlement.

Within the next year after Wilson’s vision, his Dance had grown in popularity, and many chiefs and leaders from many Western tribes traveled to Nevada to be taught the Dance by Wilson himself, and he traveled around to instill some of the principles of his religion, which had some commonalities with Christianity – belief in one God being prominent among them.

While Wilson was promoting pacifism and teaching the American Indians to live a more pure life without the “vices” brought by the whites in order to have elevated spirituality, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs had gotten wind of the Dance and were concerned. Considering that these agents were noting that many of the tribes were conducting the same ritual, it looked like a unifying ritual that was encouraging warlike rebellion against the American government. The federal government banned the Ghost Dance anywhere on U.S. land, but at least some remnants of the tradition are still being performed today.

The dance is a five-day-long ceremony in which believers would dance every evening, and all night on the fifth night, calling forth the warrior spirits of yesteryear (those who fought against the U.S. Army) to fight on the behalf of the living, defeat and chase out the whites and restore the lands to the American Indians.

Wilson spoke about peace from his vision, saying that if American Indians lived a clean life, loved each other, did not fight like ancestors and shunned much of the lifestyle brought from the whites (which he believed were intended to destroy Indian culture and society), those who were believers would be saved and allowed to walk the Earth with the Christ, who he predicted would come to Earth in the spring of 1890.  After the Wounded Knee massacre and Christ not coming , many believers left the religious movement, though the Ghost Dance has not been fully eliminated from tradition. It is now more of a private ceremony with many tribes.