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Cultural Significance of The Ghost Dance: Analytical Essay

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History has been known to be full of nothing but traumatic events that took place when our ancestors pronounced that the white color was superior, and every other race was inferior to them. Blood was spilled whenever something was done that did not satisfy the expectations of those who dominated the lands, the race that was granted with the brutal ways of all races would be the Indigenous people. Their once strong ancestral roots were torn from the ground and they were forced onto reservations where they were told they could perform their ‘Indian traditions’ but unfortunately it was all a lie. The Ghost Dance is one of the most deep-rooted movements in all of history due to the aftermath of the disaster that occurred once Indigenous People performed the dance. The Natives who performed this dance were going against the white man’s rules and for that there were severe consequences.

The Ghost Dance was a large movement that was expanded throughout the west during the 1890s. Many of the Native American traditions were limited and they were only allowed to maintain their traditions if they remained on the Reservation. According to David Emory Shi’s America : The Essential Learning Edition, “Late in 1888, Wovoka (or Jack Wilson), a Paiute in western Nevada, fell ill and in a delirium imagined being in the spirit world, where he learned of a deliverer coming to rescue the Indians and restore their land” (David Emory Shi). While imagining himself in the Spirit World, it was there that he had been taught the dance by God, whom he had seen in his visions. To the Indigenous people who traveled to see him and learn his ways, he was the new Messiah. He was their salvation and there was nothing more to it because they firmly stood by what they believed. It was stated in Shi’s America: The Essential Learning Edition, “To hasten their deliverance, he said, the Indians must perform a ceremonial dance” (David Emory Shi). His goal was to rescue Indians and restore what rightfully belonged to them – their land. He had informed the Indians that this dance would make them stronger than the white soldiers, this was a ceremonial dance that will grant them strength. This dance was spreading across the west and caused an uproar. This was only the beginning of the growing tension, the Indigenous people knew they could not stay silent.

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This dance brought hope to all, reminding the Indigenous people that they were not alone nor unprotected. The dance gave them assurance, that they would feel empowered and should not be fazed or discouraged. Alexander Lesser wrote in his short article, Cultural Significance of The Ghost Dance, “The Ghost Dance doctrine brought hope. It promised a destruction of the invading white man, a return of the buffalo and old Indian ways, and a reunion of the Indians and their deceased forebears” (Alexander Lesser). This ceremonial dance brought the Indigenous people hope and their new messiah will stay faithful to his words. For he had given them a promise and his absolute word that things will now change for good. That by performing this dance they will gain strength to go against the white soldiers that threatened their lives every day. Russel Thorton’s book, Demographic Antecedents of a Revitalization Movement, states that “The objective of the Ghost Dance and historic timing suggest that the movement was, at least in part, an attempted demographic revitalization to recover population losses” (Russel Thorton). This dance was seen as a ticket to freedom to help restore what was stolen from them. Not only was their land stolen, but so were lives. Lives that they can never get back, the Indgenous people were desperate to be lifted out of this grave they were in, they knew that things had to change. So they adopted this dance and performed it in hopes that it’ll give them the power to make their lives get better.

Unfortunately, The Ghost Dance only brought destruction and death. According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, “…the “ghost shirts” failed to protect the wearers, as promised by Wovoka” (Encyclopedia of Britannica). Wovoka had promised his people that this supposed dance would protect them from the white men, but instead, it backfired and many more of their people were killed in response for going against the rules by performing the ceremonial dance. This backlash caused many more Indigenous people to lose their lives and it also caused a larger rift between white and Indigenous people. Shi states in his book, America: The Essential Learning Edition, “…The Indians defied the order and a crisis erupted” (David Emory Shi). There were prices to be paid when a colored person went against a white man’s orders and the Indigenous people paid the price. Though they still stood strong, after the Wounded Knee Massacre the last bit of hope was destroyed. The Wounded Knee Massacre was where the 7th Cavalry Regiment slaughtered hundreds of Sioux people ( women, children, and men), after this only few Sioux people remained and fled. The US Regime were not punished but instead rewarded, the public also seemed pleased with the deaths. This massacre also called an end to the Native Resistance, the Ghost Dance Movement did not live up to the dreams that many held dearly to them.

In conclusion, The Ghost Dance movement held no truth. It was a sign that things would get better but sadly nothing changed. Those who performed this dance were punished for defying orders, but it did give much hope and they died thinking that they added to a cause that will change their fellow people’s lives. False hope is better than no hope, those who died thought they were dying for a good cause and perhaps that is the only good thing that came out of this movement. This movement opened the eyes to those who look back in history, the Indigenous people suffered through a lot of torment. They were always given the backside of everything and no good ever came from the white people. Being pushed off their respectively owned land, being slaughtered, the only thing that Indigenous people craved was hope and that one day their land would be returned.

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