The Ghost Dance: The Politics of Dancing

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Ghost Dance, Wounded Knee Massacre Pages: 16 (6078 words) Published: December 12, 2013
When the Puritans left for the New World they looked at it as a place to establish and create a “city upon a hill.” They would be free from persecution. It would be a place to build their homes and families. They saw it as the Lord’s garden. There was plenty of land to settle and to establish themselves on. They saw the New World as a promised land. What they didn’t expect was for the Native population of the New World to want to hold on to their own communities, religious practices, and homes. They found a population of people that were willing to fight to keep these things. The inhabitants of this world had their own language, laws and established communities. Tensions continued to build over the years as more and more Europeans continued the immigration to the new world. The Indians were continuously removed from their lands, and assimilation was forced upon them. They used their religious practices in part as to rebel against the new comers. Long before the immigration began, Indian dreams for told of the coming of these people, and the changes that would be brought with them. In an old Wampanoag story a chief foretold the coming of these strangers, “On his death-bed, he said that a strange white people would come to crowd out the red men, and that for a sign, after his death a great white whale would rise out of the witch pond below. That night he died…and the great white whale rose from the witch pond. That’s a sign that another new people the color of the whale would arrive, but don’t let them have all of the land because if you do the Indian will disappear.”1

After first contact between Europeans and Native Americans, those that came to settle had sought to civilize the Indians by converting them to Christianity and assimilating them through any means into what became American society. This desire to convert sometimes this turned into violent encounters. They were seen as less than human by some, and consequently also as second class citizens. Several times European sailors kidnapped Indians and sold them into slavery or put on exhibit back home. These kidnappings started in the early 1500. A letter that was dated July 8, 1524 from Giovanni da Verrazano tells of a child that was kidnapped by his own crew and an attempted to kidnap a woman as well. At the beginning of the 1600’s, Portuguese explorer Gasper Corte Real kidnapped over fifty Native Americans and then sold them into slavery. In 1502 explorer Sebastian Cabot put three Native Americans that he had captured on display.2 Those that were put on exhibition rarely survived the experience. They were depicted as savages, cruel and barbaric. According to Sir Walter Raleigh, Indians had “their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts.”3 They lacked everything that the English considered civilized: Christianity, cities, political systems, and clothing. They were driven by their passions. The Europeans also brought disease with them that the native population had not been exposed to and therefore had no immunities to. These diseases swept across the tribes killing thousands all while the Europeans tried to teach the Indians how to be civilized and about their god. Believing that this was a sign from God, William Bradford said: “For it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness and such a mortality that of a thousand, above nine and a half hundred of them died, and many of them did rot above ground for want of burial.” These deaths were interpreted by the colonizers as divinely sanctioned. They were a sign from God that he was making room for them.

They also brought Christianity with them. They believed that the religion that they had brought with them was radically superior to that of the Indians. Europeans believed that their own faith was the only true one and that all that did not believe were heathens. They felt that this superiority gave them the right to enslave the...
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