Affirm the Lakota way of life


By Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Wherever the Ghost Dance has spread, it has become something distinctive and different, as indigenous communities imbued it with particular meanings and, in some cases, unique traits compared to their own contemporary traditions and circumstances. . This was certainly the case among the Lakota of the northern plains.

The ghost dance offered the Lakota peace, restoring balance and joy. (Image: US National Archives and Records Administration / Public domain)

In the context of the Lakota, there is a very specific perspective on why the Ghost Dance was so attractive to American Indians. Sociologists use the term anomie to describe a sense of helplessness and aimlessness that arises when people can no longer achieve accepted societal goals through accepted societal means. And that’s what was happening on the reserves.

The natives could no longer support themselves as in the past. They couldn’t practice the ways of life that the creator gave them. In 1883, the Lakota organized their last buffalo hunt, which, of course, was as much about strengthening and implementing a sense of identity and people as it was about procuring food.

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The last dance of the sun

In 1884, the Lakota staged their last sun dance, which oppressive federal agents had banned. Anthropologist Raymond DeMallie explains that the Sun Dance brought all the Lakota together, where they courted and had fun. The sun dance also served as a time for other rituals, including, in her words:

The game of visions, dances by groups of people with shared seeing experiences, displays of the powers of healers or healers, baby ear piercing essential to identity as Lakota and lavish gifts.

“The Sun Dance”, in other words, “was a true affirmation of the identity and power of the Lakota, in both a physical and spiritual sense.” By thus banning sun dancing, federal agents have intentionally torn apart the very fabric of Lakota personality and nationality.

Learn more about the last Indian wars.

Prohibit the use of ritual packs

In 1888, the Indian Bureau agent at Pine Ridge extended the assault on Lakota identity by banning the use of ritual bundles. The Lakota made ritual bundles when a person died. The deceased’s hair was cut and bundled for a year.

In this way, their spirit remained with the people until it was released at an awards ceremony held in their honor. Now, federal agents had even made mourning and caring for the minds of loved ones a punishable offense. Short Bull, a Lakota dance leader, explained the impact of the assault:

The Whites waged war on the Lakota to prevent them from practicing their religion. But the whites want to shame the spirits of our dead. They wish us to be a stingy people and send our spirits into the spirit world as if they had been conquered and stolen by the enemy. They want us to send our spirits on the trail of spirits with nothing so that when they come to the spirit world they will be like beggars.

Weekly ration ticket

The advent of ration days reinforced the same feelings for the living. On those days, the Lakota would congregate at the agency, sometimes forming a large circle around federal agents and commodities like beef, corn, flour, salt, coffee, etc. which were to be distributed to them.

An image of natives gathered in the streets on ration day.
The Oglala were required to present a weekly ration ticket to agency staff. (Image: Farny, Henry François / Public domain)

The Oglala were required to present a weekly ration ticket to agency staff. And while they were looking for ways to make these addiction markers their own by adding beads, quills, and pewter ornaments and crafting some nice leather carry pouches, the disheartening message of the ration tickets was inevitable.

A reminder of the lost freedom

The practice of releasing cattle into agency corrals and letting the Lakota men ride their horses to slaughter them may have been a substitute for buffalo hunting for some Lakota. If so, it was a reminder of the freedom that had been lost for others. The same was true for another reason to distribute live cattle: it reduced the likelihood of aging, spoiling, or not being suitable for beef as an annuity ration from unscrupulous suppliers. Dependence, therefore, deeply.

The passage of a law in the spring of 1889 to further subdivide the Great Sioux reserve into six smaller ones, thus opening up even more land to non-Indians and making life more precarious for the Lakota, added the insult to the ‘insult.

This was the context in which the Ghost Dance was inserted and why its message was so appealing to Lakotas. They had seen the loss of autonomy and power. They had lost loved ones to disease and malnutrition. They had been attacked physically, culturally and spiritually by soldiers, federal agents and missionaries.

Wovoka’s teachings

Thus, when in late summer and early fall 1890, Lakota emissaries such as Kicking Bear and Short Bull brought their own versions of Wovoka’s teachings back to the Standing Rock and Rosebud reservations and that Big Foot has become a central figure in the Ghost Dance movement. in Cheyenne River — Lakotas were ready to listen.

As Wovoka promised, the Ghost Dance offered the Lakota peace, restoring balance and joy. He affirmed the continued integrity of the Lakota lifestyles. And what’s more, even though it represented something new, it conformed to the Lakota notions of power, or wakan, and religious expression.

Learn more about the Chiricahua Apache struggle to maintain their independence.

The return of the bison

The Lakota have also added their own elements to the Ghost Dance. For them, the restoration of human life depended on the restoration of animal populations, especially bison.

Indeed, many Lakota believed that humans and bison had originally emerged from underground and that bison had returned due to offenses committed by non-Indians. The ghost dance was also attractive, as it was then used as a ritual means to ensure the return of the bison and, by extension, the health of the people.

Common Ghost Dance Questions: Affirming the Lakota Way of Life

Q: What was the meaning of the sun dance?

The Dance of the sun was a true affirmation of Lakota identity and power, both in a physical and spiritual sense. It brought all the Lakota together, where they courted and had fun.

Q: To the Lakota people, what did the Ghost Dance represent?

The Ghost dance offered the Lakota peace, restoring balance and joy. He affirmed the continued integrity of the Lakota lifestyles.

Q: Why did the Lakota people like the Ghost Dance so much?

The Ghost dance was so attractive to the Lakota people because it served as a ritualistic means to ensure the return of the bison and, by extension, the health of the people.

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