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Ghost Dances and Identity

Ghost Dances and Identity: Prophetic Religion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century

Gregory E. Smoak
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Ghost Dances and Identity
    Book Description:

    This innovative cultural history examines wide-ranging issues of religion, politics, and identity through an analysis of the American Indian Ghost Dance movement and its significance for two little-studied tribes: the Shoshones and Bannocks. The Ghost Dance has become a metaphor for the death of American Indian culture, but as Gregory Smoak argues, it was not the desperate fantasy of a dying people but a powerful expression of a racialized “Indianness.” While the Ghost Dance did appeal to supernatural forces to restore power to native peoples, on another level it became a vehicle for the expression of meaningful social identities that crossed ethnic, tribal, and historical boundaries. Looking closely at the Ghost Dances of 1870 and 1890, Smoak constructs a far-reaching, new argument about the formation of ethnic and racial identity among American Indians. He examines the origins of Shoshone and Bannock ethnicity, follows these peoples through a period of declining autonomy vis-a-vis the United States government, and finally puts their experience and the Ghost Dances within the larger context of identity formation and emerging nationalism which marked United States history in the nineteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94172-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Endings and Beginnings
    (pp. 1-11)

    Just after 9:30 on the morning of 29 December 1890, the shooting began. The previous afternoon, soldiers of the United States Seventh Cavalry had intercepted Bigfoot’s Minneconjou Lakotas and forced them to camp along Wounded Knee Creek in the new state of South Dakota. Like many other Lakotas, Bigfoot’s people had adopted a religion that had emerged from the Walker River Reservation, in western Nevada, nearly two years earlier. There, the Northern Paiute prophet Wovoka told the faithful that, if they practiced the prescribed rituals and led honest, peaceful lives, they would soon be reunited with their deceased friends and...

  6. PART ONE Identity and Prophecy in the Newe World

    • CHAPTER 1 Snakes and Diggers: The Origins of Newe Ethnic Identities
      (pp. 15-47)

      By the time the Ghost Dance movements of the late nineteenth century reached the Fort Hall Reservation in southeastern Idaho, government officials and the local white population agreed that the reservation was the home of two discrete peoples, whom they labeled Shoshones and Bannocks. These same observers ascribed particular attitudes and behaviors to these ethnic identities, perhaps best illustrated by the “progressive” Joe Wheeler and the “nonprogressive” Jim Ballard. But these ethnic identities were not age-old, fixed, or permanent. Rather, they were the result of a historic process of social and economic differentiation beginning at the opening of the eighteenth...

    • CHAPTER 2 Shamans, Prophets, and Missionaries: Newe Religion in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 48-81)

      Religion and identity are intertwined. Religions explain who a people are, how they were created, and the nature of their relationship to the world and to others.¹ Newe peoples made sense of the great changes in their world in part through their religious beliefs. But, like people, belief systems do not exist in a vacuum. Beliefs and events are inextricably linked. Historical events are understood through the prism of culture: that is, they acquire their significance through culture. At the same time, cultures and their religions are products of history. As the meanings that a culture applies to things, events,...

  7. PART TWO Identity, Prophecy, and Reservation Life

    • CHAPTER 3 Treaty Making and Consolidation: The Politics of Ethnogenesis
      (pp. 85-112)

      By the 1860s, the once-fluid social, political, and geographic boundaries of the Newe world began to harden as the United States exerted ever greater control over the lives and lands of Newe peoples. Social and economic differentiation had already resulted in a greater sense of social identity among Newe peoples, best characterized by the existence of bands. Bands, however, were not discrete, fixed, or formal polities. Rather, they were loose-knit populations of family groups that formed into larger bodies for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, for defense, and, increasingly, for dealing with the demands of European Americans. Cultural factors unified rather...

    • CHAPTER 4 Two Trails: Resistance, Accommodation, and the 1870 Ghost Dance
      (pp. 113-151)

      The decade between the founding of the Fort Hall Reservation and the end of the Bannock War marked the last period of true off-reservation freedom for Newe peoples. It was also a decade for decisions as their options narrowed. As Willie George saw it, his people increasingly faced a choice between “two trails.” White settlements expropriated or destroyed the very resources that made an autonomous life possible, while white settlers and politicians were increasingly calling for an end to the Indians’ “roaming.” Some groups, most notably the Fort Hall Bannocks, resisted the reservation system and maintained their customary life ways...

    • CHAPTER 5 Culture Wars, Indianness, and the 1890 Ghost Dance
      (pp. 152-190)

      In the years after the Bannock War, another conflict raged on the Fort Hall Reservation. In a few rare instances it became violent, but for the most part it was a political, social, and cultural fight. In essence it was a conflict between two competing visions of the future of Indian America. One vision prophesied the end of American Indians. Taken by the hand and led to civilization by well-meaning Christian reformers, the Bannocks, Shoshones, and all other Indian peoples would adopt the ways of white America and become indistinguishable from all other citizens. The second vision, asserted by Indian...

  8. Conclusion: Prophecy and American Identities
    (pp. 191-206)

    On New Year’s Day 1889 Jack Wilson died, and so began perhaps the most famous and most studied American Indian religious movement of the nineteenth century. When his spirit returned to his body, Wilson, who was also known as Wovoka, began to preach to his people, the Northern Paiutes, or Numu, of the Smith and Mason valleys of western Nevada. He told them that if they practiced the rituals that had been revealed to him and led honest, peaceful lives, they would be reunited with their deceased friends and loved ones on a reborn earth. From its beginnings on the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 207-250)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 251-270)
  11. Index
    (pp. 271-289)