Wounded Knee, Ghost Dance and the End of a Resistance

Wounded Knee

Wounded Knee dead 2

125 Years

December 29, 2015

The Day We Fell Silent

The Resistence Ends

125 years ago marked the end of the resistance. The movement crushed by the sorrow of all that was gone. And then, silence for 80 years. History mentions little, and affirms what we knew, we didn’t matter. The final stages were being orchestrated to fully and completely assimilate the people of the first nations. Children taken from parents by force and indoctrinated into a foreign religion, a religion that had came and killed all the beauty of diverse and prosperous societies. We are told, if we accept the desert demigod Jesus, and follow the archaic, dogmatic and inconsistent rules of this maniacal god, we’ll be granted entrance into a socialist utopian kingdom when we die. The irony is that they came and destroyed the very utopia they wait to find in death.


“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead. “

—- Black Elk

Four days after Christmas, with decorations still up at the Episcopalian mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation, 4 Sioux men and 47 children were brought in that had survived. Wounded, flesh torn by bullets and shrapnel, they were delivered to a place that displayed Peace on Earth. The final count is estimated between 300 and 350 dead. Bodies left in the snow where they had fallen. Later to be thrown into a mass grave. A final message that no, all lives do not matter.

The Ghost Dance

“There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see him…The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had made. The White men were frightened and called for soldiers.”

Red Cloud

Settlers were fearful of Native American Spirituality. And Native Americans needed something, anything to grant some kind of hope.  Wovoka, a self proclaimed visionary, and who had vsions more Christian than native, proclaiming him the native Messiah  by many desperate Indian nations. Wovoka claimed while on the cusp of death he had visions of the destruction of the white settlers and a time of happiness for all past and present natives.  In a manner reminiscent of Christ, Wovoka preached non-violence, and most tribes abandoned their war-like ways in preparation for future happiness. But the movement was destined to be a part of the worst slaughter of modern times.

This is one of the reasons why I see the mixing of European religions and native spirituality as dangerous, deadly.  But a people with despair, no hope, they grasped onto any kind of hope.

The first census was of the Sioux was taken in 1886. Thereafter they were required to have a family name. One of the father’s names was usually taken by the other members of the family, and everyone was given a distinguishing white first name, such as John or Nancy. Some family names, in translation, were unsuitable, so the census takers renamed them with complete English names…1889 and 1890 were years of severe drought, and unlike the white farmers, Indians could not move away to better ground. The buffalo were being systematically wiped out by white hunters, and indeed were virtually gone before 1890. In February 1890, the Dakota Reservation was opened to homesteading by non-Indians, and now the Sioux were ready to turn to anything that would offer them the slightest hope of returning to their old way of life. They prayed desperately, and sought visions from Wakan-Tanka for guidance and deliverance…It was at this point that a Paiute Indian named Wovoka entered the scene…”

“Wovoka or “Jack Wilson,” who started the Ghost Dance was the prophet or messiah of the Ghost Dance to the Sioux. They practiced that religion prior the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

Sitting Bull had been recently assassinated, yet they chose to peacefully dance, believing their way of life, the buffalo, and the land would be returned to them. They chose dancing the Ghost Dance in winter snow over revenge. They stood earnestly by their convictions, even up until the moment that the soldiers started massacring them.

The Ghost Dancers believed their shirts were bullet proof, and that their way of life would be returned. To understand some of why they believed those things; one needs to understand what was believed about Wovoka.


In his early adulthood, Wovoka gained a reputation as a powerful shaman. He was adept at magic tricks. One trick he often performed was being shot with a shotgun, which may have been similar to the bullet catch trick. Reports of this trick may have convinced the Lakota that their “ghost shirts” could stop bullets.

Ghost Dance

Also, Wovoka was reported to have had the Stigmata, same as

Padre Pio about 30 years later.

I heard an elder talk about Wovoka having the Stigmata, as well as the intent behind the Ghost Dance. It was nothing but peaceful, though it was controversial to many who did not participate. It hasn’t been done since the 1973 Siege of Wounded Knee as far as I know.

Some say Wovoka’s Stigmata wounds were self-inflicted; some say his wounds were not.

I don’t know.

In addition, there is a lesser well-known fact about this history: a relationship between Wovoka’s philosophies, his instructions to the Ghost Dancers, and the words of Jesus Christ:

Paiute ~ Wovoka ~ Ghost Dancers

“Jesus is now upon the Earth,” he stated. But again, there is historic contradiction here- Wovoka is quoted as saying he was Christ and he wasn’t Christ. It would seem that either he excelled at playing to different audiences or was damned to being preserved by faulty historians.

Despite the later association of the Ghost Dance with the Wounded Knee Massacre and unrest on the Lakota reservations, Wovoka charged his followers:

 “Do not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do not refuse to work for the whites and do not make any trouble with them.”

While the Ghost Dance is sometimes seen today as an expression of Indian militancy and the desire to preserve traditional ways, Wovoka’s pronouncements ironically bore the heavy mark of popular Christianity.

I disagree that last sentence, “Wovoka’s pronouncements ironically bore the heavy mark of popular Christianity.”


Vital parts of understanding the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 are preexisting conditions, Wovoka, and the Ghost Dance


Speaking only for myself, I will not entertain the idea of a god that quite obviously did not care for the Native Americans,  can be the source of salvation. I do not believe in the Abrahamic God, nor do I respect the theology. I respect everyone’s right to believe the theology, but don’t confuse this with respecting such archaic, dogmatic trash.  

But I understand that loss of all hope can leave the oppressed desparate and vulverable to false visions of a Jewish savior for Indigenous Americans.


With AIM came a new era. A fight that has brought awareness, change, and unity across the tribes. Not all agree with their mission or tactics. For me it’s very clear that they have restored tradition and respect to lost ideas.  

From AIM

“In 1970 Clyde Bellecourt of the American Indian Movement was invited as a sponsor from the Great Oglala Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation to attend the Sun Dance. Clyde was excited about the invitation, and like most of us in the early years had read books such as Black Elk Speaks that relates the sacred rites of the Lakota Nation. Upon accepting the invitation, Clyde thought it would fulfill two purposes, one of course to be one of the sponsors, and two, to learn firsthand, the spiritual traditions of the Sun Dance, the purification ceremony, and the reasons for such ceremonies.

Clyde arrived on the Pine Ridge Reservation grounds where the Sun Dance was being held and he thought he had gone to the wrong place. There was a fair, a rodeo, and surrounding the arbor, there were fair rides, a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, and food stands. He asked someone, “where is the Sun Dance?” He was told, ‘Right here.’ He ran into Dennis Banks and Russell Means, who were both dancing, and one had a snow cone and the other had a fry bread burger, and Clyde expressed his disbelief. They told him that the Sun Dance turned into a powwow after the day was done, and the dancers could eat, drink, go home, be with their girlfriends, or wives, or boyfriends, or husbands. The sacred Sun Dance grounds turned into a social dance and anyone could dance powwow whether they were sober or not.

Russell Means and Dennis Banks told Clyde, “Wait until Sunday and see what happens then.” Clyde asked them about Sunday and they said that the Catholic priest arrives at noon to the Sun Dance arbor to serve communion.

The prime sponsors of the Sun Dance was the Catholic Church and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The dancers were not allowed to pierce. They hitched a horse harness to the buffalo skull and the dancer was allowed to pull it like that.

Lehmann Brightman of United Native Americans out of California and Clyde could not believe what they were seeing and hearing. They told Dennis and Russell that this was not going to happen on their shift. Dennis and Russell pleaded with Clyde and Lehmann not to upset the dance because it would turn people against the American Indian Movement. They said to go and talk to Fools Crow. Clyde asked who Fools Crow was, and learned he was a chief of the Oglala Nation who had some responsibility with the Sun Dance. When they met with Chief Fools Crow he spoke only in Oglala Lakota and the interpreter was Severt Young Bear. They asked Fools Crow, “why are you allowing this to happen?’

Chief Fools Crow was given tobacco, but still had to have permission from the Catholic Church to have the Sun Dance. It was the same with the other ceremonies as well, not only on Pine Ridge, but every Indian Reservation, and Indian community. The peyote ceremonies became the Native American Church. These ceremonies had the Christian bible present. This is how the church controlled us, and made us weak. We were removed from our lands, and made more dependent with our every move.

Clyde informed Chief Fools Crow who they were, and told him about the great stories he read concerning the Lakota Nation, and the sacred ceremonies. Clyde told him what they must do to strengthen our communities and bring back the ceremonies to the people. At this time, Chief Fools Crow said there was nothing he could do, and told them to go and talk to the warriors. Clyde asked who they were, and Frank Fools Crow said, “the Sun Dancers.”

Lehmann Brightman and Clyde did talk to the Sun Dancers about the Church controlling them and the ceremonies, and they took a vote, and the warriors voted unanimously to take back the Sun Dance from the church.

On Sunday everyone from all of the communities on Pine Ridge came to see what would happen. Word spread quickly, and it turned out to be the largest crowd at a Sun Dance in recent memory at Pine Ridge. At noon the priest arrived with two altar boys and their bread and wine to offer communion, which would conclude the Sun Dance of the Great Oglala Nation. When Lehmann Brightman and Clyde entered the arbor, there were loud boo’s from the crowd and they started to throw whatever they had at them, food, trash, cups, bottles, etc. They informed the priest who was adorned in white Indian beaded vestments, that the dancers no long wanted him there, and that his days are now over. The priest asked Clyde, “Who are you?” Clyde told him who he was and that he represented the American Indian Movement, and introduced Lehmann Brightman as his brother from United Native Americans. The priest said, “I heard about you rabble-rousers.” Clyde said to the priest, “Father, please I am asking you to leave.” The priest said, “What if I don’t?” Clyde and Lehmann gently took the priest by each arm and escorted him out of the arbor to the boo’s and jeers of the crowd . By that time the police sirens could be heard, and Clyde and Lehmann were placed in the backseat of a squad car and were driven to the border of the reservation and were told to never come back.

Because of this action, in 1971, the following year, the American Indian Movement held its first Sun Dance on the Rosebud Reservation at Crow Dog’s Paradise. A Sun Dancer is committed for a lifetime. Clyde said that he has been a Sun Dancer for 40 years and now a Head Sun Dancer, and also a member of the Midewin Society.

Today, there are hundreds of Sun Dances, purification ceremonies, healing ceremonies, Midewin ceremonies every year. Most are conducted by recognized spiritual leaders, such as Rick Two Dogs, Warfield Moose, Richard Moves Camp, and others, but we also know there are those who exploit their own people’s traditions.”

Without the European religion that’s a warped middle eastern theology, interwoven into a bastardized spirituality,  AIM has brought back an awareness and link to traditions that reach back 2000 years.

“The Great Spirit raised both the white man and the Indian. I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me in this land, it belongs to me. The white man was raised over the great waters, and his land is over there.”


Red Cloud



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