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The Ghost Dance Movement and Its Emergence Essay

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Updated: Jul 26th, 2022


The Ghost Dance Movement was a significant event from historical, cultural, and social perspectives. The well-documented spiritual riot of Indigenous peoples of the United States presented continuous deliberate dancing of tribal participants. Men, women, and children united in one action with a hopeless attempt to restore the days of yore when they were the hosts of their lands. The movement had no aggressive, threatening intention but only the last endeavors of perishing, wretched people, yet the American government recognized it as a dangerous upheaval. The situation resulted in the Wounded Knee Massacre that took the lives of numerous Lacotas, an Indian American tribe, registered as collateral damage in the war conditions by officials (Dunbar-Ortiz 155–57). The Ghost Dancing emerged in the context of hunger, oppression, the need for returning the well-being, and messianic hope fused with indigenous beliefs.

Main body

First of all, the economic reasons for the practice development are reduced resources of Native Americans and their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. For example, the Lakota people mentioned above faced a wide range of difficulties that made them fight for their survival. The rapid change in the abundance of essential living resources disturbed the cycle of provision obtaining customs. The primary food source, buffalo, was prohibited for hunting and later went extinct. Various diseases depopulated the tribe, diminishing its labor forces to a minimum. Additionally, the proposed by American-European agriculture could not have been readily adopted by Lakotas. They had practiced hunting and gathering for their entire history and were not accustomed to the new civilization’s achievements (“Section 7: The Ghost Dance,” pars. 1–2). Obviously, this instability caused a surge of despair that was incorporated into a novel religious movement. Consequently, the economic factor is among the most important for understanding the Ghost Dance as it explains the grounds of the peoples’ distress resulting in resorting to the ritual.

Secondly, the political perspective of the time should not be omitted since American colonialism defined the emergence of the Ghost Dance Movement. Namely, the United States government supported expanding its territory by removing the unwanted population. The Indigenous cultures were seen as uncivilized, inferior, and dangerous to new inhabitants; thus, reservoirs for Indians appeared. The domination of a different community was proclaimed and accompanied by numerous armed conflicts with the native population. Moreover, the US officials encouraged the biased judgments of citizens about the tribes, declaring their guilt in every encounter with the army. The Knee Massacre illustrates the campaign: the soldiers who committed war crimes against Lacotas received honorable rewards for their involvement in the affairs (Dunbar-Ortiz 155–57). American Indians, in their turn, stopped fighting for their independence and right to the land directly but did not leave the hope that change was yet possible. Therefore, the constant oppression from the white population made Native peoples of the United States pursue ideas that, in their perspective, would help them regain power.

The next aspect of consideration is humanitarian which relates to the general hope for the well-being of the Indians. The economic and political weakness and vulnerability of the tribes created a strong feeling among the Native Americans that justice would finally prevail, eliminating the severe conditions that they faced. The hope for humanity of American Europeans was abandoned after observations of their greed and intolerance. For instance, Lakotas had not obtained the rations assigned to them because governmental intermediaries preferred to share food in a way beneficial for the white people (“Section 7: The Ghost Dance,” pars. 1–2). These disparities provoked high levels of social woe among the Indigenous communities, making them more trustful to their native culture and hostile to others. Therefore, the humanitarian belief in fairness separated the Indians from the United States citizens and evolved into a protest against injustice.

Finally, the indigenous religious beliefs combined with Christian views produced a messianic movement that Ghost Dancing was. The Indians had known the practice of exhausting performances through South American rituals, specifically Aztec dances in the shine of the flaming sun. Next, the Paiute people comprehended and adopted Christian concepts of suffering for a subsequent blessing and ascension through death. Additionally, the remaining faith in the power of shamanic experience made it possible for these individuals to rely on a person seen as a messiah (Oxford, pars. 2–5). The circumstances mentioned above also facilitated the spread of the new religion that intermingled the ethical views with the borrowed belief system. Accordingly, the spiritual considerations of the Native Americans and imported Christianity were the grounds for the massive Ghost Dance Movement.


To conclude, the Ghost Dance was a movement that accumulated the various aspects of American Indians living in the 19th century and delivered their cry for justice and salvation. Climate change caused starvation among the nomads, who were unable to adhere to their accustomed living standards. Political surpassing of the American Europeans made impossible any attempts of controlling the changed conditions and led to the great despair of the tribal participants because of aggressive colonialist policy. The feeling of constant torture and religious prerequisites forced the Native American peoples to incorporate a new belief that would give them hope and consolation.

Works Cited

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2014.

Oxford. “Ghost Dance.” Oxford Reference, Web.

“Section 7: The Ghost Dance.” North Dakota Studies, Web.

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