The Ghost Dance

ghost danceIt was said that if the dance was done with extreme precision and adherence to ritual, the oppression would stop. Wild game would return, and a new age would ensue. Sometimes a swirling trance was conjured, but this only increased the oppression — strange manifestations, even if grounded in peaceful intention, frightened those in power.

This began in 1890, just a few years after the General Allotment or Dawes Act. This legislation was viewed as a benevolent method to force Native Americans into the world of progress. But, as was to be expected, benevolent became malevolent in almost record time.

Native American lands were taken up by the US government and split into distinct lots, based on ownership, not communal living as was the norm for those cultures. Poor land was provided to the recipients, and an enforced hierarchy based upon social status was placed on people who generally didn’t think that way. Men were designated as heads of households, placing European designations on male-female relationships. Before, there had more of a distinct, but equal footing. Oh, and they needed to take on Anglicized names. For paperwork clarification and expediency, of course.

In a leap of empathy probably never considered by grouchy rally sign-holders, one considers how they would cope if those considered to be illegal immigrants to the United States got edgy. Perhaps organizing and mounting a full assault, confiscating lands occupied by US citizens and doling back the stretches of scrubland. But only if the recipient would take a Hispanic surname, of course. Some uncomfortable truths lurk in our origin myths — happily they won’t likely cause even the firing of a single neuron of consideration in the minds of most Americans.

The fight of course, was never fair. The microbes fought on the behalf of hierarchy and misery as many places fell victim before the first physical European contact in their area even occurred. All it took was for one member to return to the tribe after a brush with those microbes. Often the areas were conveniently cleared prior to arrival. Many generations of Europeans had lived in filthy conditions crowded near domesticated animals, and this created the vicious zoonotic diseases able to remove large swaths of life at will.

Those Native Americans with amazing immune systems who survived were left to bear witness to the annihilation of their cultures. There was no room for freedom, only domestication. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft commented in 1820 that the bison was “wild and ungovernable”. Such was the Americas, prior to the imposed structure. The bison was the keystone, and a symbol of all that had to be removed or at the very least, governed.

It is worth mentioning that this tale of death and the removal of the beautiful wild is not just simple history- for as they say, history rhymes. And as we chat, the gods are writing with a perverse poetry. Our ghost dance likely begins now.

The worst-case scenarios are emerging as far as climate change. It is no longer unthinkable to consider that the earth may be unable to carry such a capacity under the devastating conditions that industry seems to be unleashing.

As with the microbes carried on the skins of the Europeans, the souls carried something devastating as well. Its incubation period was longer, that of the industrial revolution and beyond, but those wheels are grinding exceedingly fine. The justice is steeped in irony that most don’t even consider. Our culture is to be wiped out by the very growth at any cost paradigm that wiped out Native cultures.

A society willing to belch radioactive filth or lung-collapsing gases as part of doing business is nothing short of insane. And the delusion became cumulative as a different path could no longer even be envisioned by those with the power to change direction. Such is the tragedy of a mind collapsed into insanity. The recent Rio summit “sustainable development” nonsense should have taken place in a padded room. They aren’t even messing with the Titanic’s deck chairs; they are worried about its color scheme.

What will be left after this assault? Will certain areas in the high latitudes become livable, but only to nomadic bands of people — souls able to survive if they bond in an egalitarian manner and watch out for each other? That would be a world that no longer rewards the short-sighted and the sociopathic.

Kathleen PeineIt’s likely how we started out — groups such as that. But for a brief time our technology and ego allowed the notion that interconnectedness with each other and the world no longer was necessary; only commodity culture had meaning. But this is coming to an end because we are all connected and there are no “superiors” who have the right to destroy what was never theirs.

Our ghost dance calls.

Kathleen Peine

Posted: Monday, 2 July 2012


  1. Burnt Swamp says

    While there are few historical elements are “true” the context in which they are presented are misleading. The references to “our ghost dance” indicates appropriation; hence, the possessive plural pronoun form of “our” and context in which it is used. In addition, not all Indigenous peoples and their respective First Nations engage(d) in and culturally “practiced” the Ghost Dance Ceremony. The context in which this is presented presupposes the idea that all Indigenous people practiced the Ghost Dance. Moreover, it relegates Indigenous peoples into an homogenized “group” despite the reference -later in the article- to destroying “Native cultures”.

    The comment of “Americans of the Siberian Origin” is also problematic in that Indigenous peoples did not not originate from the “Americans of the Siberian Origin”. Indigenous peoples and their respective First Nation each have their own culture with own origin stories. It was Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote Notes from Virginia that created the Bering Straight Theory, which is has become internalized as truth by non-Indigenous settlers.

    There are numerous other problems with this article, but it seems pointless because patriarchy and patronizing Indigenous people about who we are, our histories, and how we continue to endure the colonial facets of genocide as a daily part of life seems lost in translation. Anyone can justify their own rationality for a conclusion by dismissing, recoding, and reinterpreting any message and elements contained therein that is sent by a messenger.

    “There is no irony in justice” because it is Indigenous people, still, who are on the front-lines of the settler society cannibalizing us, our ways of life, as well as Mother Earth.  The process of genocide, democide, ecocide, terracide, etc… continues.

  2. Burnt Swamp says

    How disappointing it is to see an article such as this that romanticizes and oversimplifies Indigenous peoples and their respective First Nations’ cultures, appropriates sacred Indigenous ceremonies for the purpose articulating a settler society narrative that has abused and continue to cannibalize Mother Earth, and then co-opts Indigenous peoples’ struggles by characterizing us as part of “beautiful and wildly” past.

    • JoeWeinstein says

      Sorry you are disappointed.  Here’s why I am not.  To express its messages the article draws on history.  Of course, as the article is agreeably brief, one can always choose to view its references as ‘oversimplified’, though it’s not obvious just how it ‘romanticizes’.   Since it mentions ceremonies, the article inevitably thereby ‘appropriates’ them.   And there’s nothing wrong with ‘articulating a settler society narrative’ – especially if (as here) the narrative is exposed for what it is: a combination of unhappy truths and disastrous errors.  Anyhow, the article isn’t trying to – and has no room to – ‘characterize’ or ‘co-opt’ either past or present ‘indigenous peoples’ (Americans of early Siberian origin) or their cultures or their present struggles.  Compared with the present, recent past centures on this continent were indeed ‘beautiful wild’.   

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