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date: 04 December 2022

The Ghost Dance Religionlocked

The Ghost Dance Religionlocked

  • Gloria YoungGloria YoungUniversity of Arkansas Fayetteville


Two North American Indian ceremonial dances, known today as the Ghost Dance of 1870 and the Ghost Dance of 1890, spread from tribe to tribe in the western United States and Canada in the late 19th century. Both began among the Paiutes of the Great Basin, initiated by individual men from their visions. The first was started by Wodzibob and, twenty years later, a new version of the dance was dreamed by Wovoka. These intertribal movements were alike in that the basis of the dance itself was the Paiute Round Dance and the doctrine of the ceremonies included the return of the dead. While the Ghost Dance of 1870 spread among the tribes of the Great Basin and California, the later movement also traveled east of the Rocky Mountains to the tribes of the Plains. The Ghost Dance of 1890 is the most widely remembered because it led to the massacre of Big Foot’s band of the Lakota at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in December 1890, which was widely publicized in newspapers and articles in the eastern United States. On the Plains, the Ghost Dance of 1890 was one of several intertribal movements of the 19th century, such as the Sun Dance, the Midewiwin, and the peyote ceremony, that became the Native American Church.

The Ghost Dance has sparked interest continuously since the Wounded Knee massacre among both the public and scholars. Historians, anthropologists, theologians, and psychologists have continued the debate as to the causes and effects of the movements. The Ghost Dance has been seen as a messianic or millenarian movement, as a blend of Native and Christian religions, as a crisis cult or a revitalization movement, as an anticolonial movement, or as merely the continuation of North American Indian Prophet Dances. Twenty-first-century scholars have approached the episode as an innovative way to accommodate and navigate toward a more satisfactory future for the Native people.


  • Native American History

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