Ghost Dance


By Mic Theory

According to native American legend, "Death" appears at midnight every year on December 29th just before New Years Eve. Death calls the dead from their graves to dance the dance of death for him while he plays his music. The misshapen bodies of the departed with flesh falling from their skeletons dance for him until the cock crows at daybreak and they fade into the mist until they can arise from their graves next year but what about the spirits who can never rest? Most Native Americans did not consider their ceremonies, and rituals as “religion,” in the way of Christians ,instead their beliefs and practices form an integral part of their very being. in 1882, the U.S. Federal Government began to work towards banning Native American Religious Rights, which impacted their ceremonies. At that time, U.S. Interior Secretary Henry M. Teller, ordered an end to all "heathenish dances and ceremonies" on reservations due to their "great hindrance to civilization." These attempts to suppress the traditions of Native Americans eventually led to the Massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when the government attempted to stop the practice of the “Ghost Dance,” a far reaching movement that prophesied a peaceful end to white American expansion and preached goals of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation by Native Americans.

When the Seventh U.S. Calvary, was sent into the Lakota Sioux's Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations to stop the dance and arrest the participants, approximately 150 Native American men, women, and children were killed.

Winona grimaced fearfully as she recounted the legend to the attentive school children. She had just moved to Atlanta from Boston and its colorful multi-ethnic communities and one of her favorite things to do was tell ghost stories to the neighborhood kids at her mother’s annual Halloween party and then perform them with her best dance students. She missed being a dance instructor at Uptown Dance. But hopefully this full time position would bring better opportunities, besides she thought she would bring this tradition down south and liven up the Holiday. Her fourth grade dance class was full of bright eager faces who laughed with glee when her tale was finished.

On her way home she was surprised to see a little girl by the roadside dressed as an antebellum slave bandana and all. The girl waved and Winona smiled, waving back as she turned onto her exit. 20 minutes later she pulled into her driveway in the small suburb of Riverdale Ga. Shut off her engine and just lay back with her eyes closed. Winona jumped suddenly for no good reason except she felt a chill run through her. She had fallen asleep in her car the engine still running and awoke to a darkened moonless sky and a street light glare reflecting in her eyes. For a moment she thought she saw the shadowy image of the little slave-girl outside her window but when she blinked it was gone. Winona sighed and chuckled to herself. ”Girl, you better stop believing your own fairy stories she mumbled under her breath as she gathered her purse and teaching plan book and exited the vehicle.

She spoke with her mother briefly on the phone and after a light dinner showered and went to bed early. (The following is an excerpt from the Metropolitan Police report of Winona Chace’s account of what occurred that Halloween night.)

I awoke suddenly and let my eyes adjust to the darkness I could see the alarm clocks blinking LED lights it was midnight. I could hear a soft crying sound and I froze unable to speak. In the darkness it was difficult to distinguish the figure until it silently approached. It was a female yet hard to distinguish her features except for a softness around the face I could sense she meant me no harm and she appeared to have a scarf tied around her head and her clothing looked like a cotton loose fitting blouse and a wide skirt you see in those Alex Haley inspired movies. It was as if she were a slave girl from one of those antebellum plantations.

It was getting easier to distinguish her features and I could hear a sound of music and drumming from somewhere outside. Soon I could distinguish her features and garments more clearly and what I had mistaken for slave clothing was more Native American in appearance she had a patterned shawl over her shoulder and her skirt was plaid striped and colorful with reds and grey tones and as the music grew louder and I could hear voices chanting in another language. I knew it was another language but I could understand what they were saying. Don’t ask me how but they began chanting and I remember every word “ Listen, Listen a nation is coming, The father Says So, The father says so, over the whole earth they are coming, These are his sayings The buffalo is coming, They walk, they stand, they are coming, The crow has brought the message, Yonder they are coming. As the chanting grew louder the girl began to dance in a circle and then I felt as if I were part of that circle I could feel people all around me an I saw animals as if they were rushing by black wolf-like animals appeared in the corner of the room watching I think they were coyotes and kicking bears were scratching my walls. I know I should have been frightened out of my mind but I wasn’t. Soon I began chanting in the same language.

In the darkness, it was hard to distinguish her features, but I sensed she was smiling at me. I felt her hand in mine and suddenly I felt all this sadness as if everything I loved had been taken from me and destroyed and I started crying. The tears were stinging my eyes but I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t stop dancing. I saw an tall thin man brightly dressed and painted rise up from the shadows and throw dust into the air all of a sudden I felt cold, so cold I couldn’t move. I could feel the presence of many people circling me, telling me not to be afraid then every part of my body went numb and I could feel myself falling. Before I passing out I heard someone whisper “Black Coyote is pleased Winona Chacawi.” Upon investigating it was found that the house Miss Chace lived in previously was built on land that belonged to her great, great, grandmother who she was named after and unbeknownst to the family she was a survivor of Wounded Knee. Miss Chace moved back to Boston shortly after.


THE HISTORY On December 28, 1890, Chief Big Foot of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux nation and 350 of his Ghost Dance Religious followers 230 of them women and children were intercepted traveling to Chief Red Clouds Pine Ridge reservation hoping to avoid the army’s religious persecution of practitioners of the Ghost Dance. One of their greatest leaders Sitting Bull, had been murdered a few weeks earlier. The natives were surrounded by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel Miller Whiteside. Since the government had banned the Ghost Dance and all its related activities Whiteside wanted to disarm the Sioux but an army scout who was half Sioux, advised that trying to disarm them immediately would be a bad idea and lead to violence. The troopers brought the Lakota about five miles west to Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota and made camp. Later that night, Col. James W. Forsyth and the rest of the 7th Cavalry arrived, bringing the number of troopers at Wounded Knee to 500. On December 29, the troops went to disarm the Lakota.

But first they had four Hotchkiss guns surrounding the natives. During the disarming process a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle claiming he had paid a lot of money for it. An argument over Black Coyote's rifle escalated and someone fired a shot which resulted in the 7th Cavalry opening fire on the encircled natives with their 42 mm Hotchkiss guns (which at the time was the weapon which replaced the twelve pound mountain Howitzer) raining fragmentation shells on the natives at 200 rounds per minute indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own troops. Those few Lakota who still had weapons began shooting backcausing the 500 soldiers to open fire on them in a crossfire methodically killing the majority of those who did not run. The surviving Lakota fled as U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed even those who were unarmed. The soldiers tracked down and killed every living native they found women and children as well regardless of their condition many of the children were killed after being promised they would be safe if they surrendered. Four infants were found alive, wrapped in their deceased mothers' shawls there is no statement of whether these children survived but the U.S. government reports 18 babies were killed. When it was over, 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux had died and 51 were wounded some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five troops also died, and thirty-nine were wounded mainly from friendly fire, as the shooting took place at close range. 49 wounded Sioux women and children were left in the freezing cold unattended in open wagons. Following a three-day blizzard, the military hired civilians to bury the dead Lakota. The burial party found the deceased frozen in contorted positions; they were gathered up and placed in a common grave on a hill overlooking the encampment from which some of the fire from the Hotchkiss guns originated. The Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor, its highest award, for the action. Native American activists have urged the medals be withdrawn, as they say they were "Medals of Dishonor". According to Lakota tribesman William Thunder Hawk, "The Medal of Honor is meant to reward soldiers who act heroically. But at Wounded Knee, they didn't show heroism; they showed cruelty." In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions that condemned the Medals of Honor awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. In contrast, only three Medals of Honor were awarded among the 64,000 South Dakotans who fought World War II.