GREAT SIOUX RESERVATION" (9 OCTOBER 1890)
Jason Edward Black
Kicking Bear, a Lakota Sioux of the
Minneconjou Band, was born in the spring of 1853 in present-day
During Kicking Bear's fifty-one years, he built a reputation as a leader of both the Minneconjou Band and the pan-Indian movement known as the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance ritual sought to stimulate a return of American Indian land and the buffalo herds that sustained their way of life. Through continual pleas to the Great Spirit and deceased Native leaders (referred to as fathers by the movement), the dance also called for the expulsion of European-Americans from Indian Country, particularly the Black Hills of South Dakota, which was, and still is, considered the spiritual birthplace of all Sioux descendents.
Kicking Bear, a Dakota Sioux by
birth, rose to prominence among the leadership class of the Lakota when he
married a niece of a Minneconjou Sioux chief in the 1870s. At the time of his marriage into the
Minneconjou, Kicking Bear had already proven himself a worthy Dakota warrior.
He raided not only European-American expeditions seeking land, westward roads,
and transcontinental rail lines in the wake of the Homestead Act of 1862, but
also the Crow Nation, which was continually at odds with the Sioux over
territory and buffalo rights throughout the mid-nineteenth century. With his marriage, he became a minor chief, a
post that would allow him to attend a founding meeting of the Ghost Dance
Movement on the Piute Indian reservation in
As settlers moved ever closer to
Native reservations, the
The leaders of the Ghost Dance
Movement took umbrage with the
At the close of Reconstruction, as
In the late 1870s, the Great Sioux
Reservation and its inhabitants fell victim to further pressures from European-American
settlers. In 1874, gold was discovered
in the Black Hills, prompting European-Americans to swarm the Sioux Nation's
After the Sioux War of 1876-1877, which
In 1887, Congress passed the
General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act), which reduced the size of
reservation lands and allowed the surplus land to be used by European-American
settlers. These reservation lands had earlier been given to American Indian
nations "for all time forever," but as settlers moved west in droves
and desired more area, the siphoning of land from reservations became the
At first, the Sioux Nation was not
impacted by the Dawes Act, but two years later, the
The Sioux Nation, though
encumbered by the
The Ghost Dance originated with
Wovoka (Piute), a self-professed Indian prophet who "foretold a promising
new world, a world in which all the white people would soon disappear and the
buffalo would return and all the dead Indian ancestors of long ago would rejoin
the living in a new way of life." Kicking Bear firmly believed that dancing in
the fashion that Wovoka taught would usher in this new world. According to Wovoka, the more Kicking Bear
and his parishioners danced, the sooner the Great Spirit and the Sioux's
ancestral "fathers" would descend to the earth, removing
Interestingly, because Native nations in the upper midwest (i.e., Sioux) and west (i.e., Piute) came into closer contact with European-Americans, Christianity was slowly introduced into Native spirituality. At the same time, the allotment policy's program of assimilation included the "gradual Christianizing" of indigenous people. American Indian nations, like the Piute and the Sioux, integrated the Christian god and Jesus Christ into their spirituality, veritably making them interchangeable with the Great Spirit. This point becomes important as Ghost dancers relied on an amalgam of Native spirituality and Christian myths in its quest for pan-Indian unity in the face of European-American expansion.
The Ghost Dance did not so much
promise a new world as a return to past times.
In this sense, the Ghost Dance served the function of cultural revival. The dance emphasized neither economic and
political aims nor the instrumental goal of persuading European-Americans and
Oral prophecy, in the vein of Kicking Bear's discourse, is said to be "more important than [simply] the counterpart of the white man's written record … it reasserts the powers of Indian mythology and cosmology over mere chronology." Orality and prophecy allowed Native cultures to make sense of socio-political changes and to transcend a conundrum or travesty by looking to both the past and the future. Kicking Bear's prophecy arose in response to the exigencies of the Fort Laramie Treaty, the Dawes Act of 1887, and the Sioux Act of 1889. As indigenous people experienced the difficulties of reservation life, religions like the Ghost Dance and rhetors such as Kicking Bear gained prominence and promised that the "peoples' despair would turn to joy and they would be reunited with their loved ones in the Above World." Kicking Bear encouraged looking beyond the current state of Sioux displacement and toward a unification of the past (ghost fathers) with the future (Sioux renewal).
Another important note is that traditional Sioux spirituality meshed well with the Ghost Dance's insistence on connecting with the past and the rooting of Native existence in the land. One reason for this was the Sioux's tendency to integrate Christianity into their worship of the Great Spirit and the land. The Ghost Dance, as conceived by Wovoka and discussed by Kicking Bear, intermingled Christianity with Native spiritualities in this same vein. The second reason for the seamless overlap of the Ghost Dance and Sioux spirituality was the "practice of dancing," specifically, as a mode of "celebrating" the Great Spirit (God; Jesus Christ) and the land. Dancing in Sioux cultures was conceived as a way of creating unity and strength, and proving to the divine and the land that the Sioux worshipped and appreciated the gifts bestowed by these entities.
Interpreting the Speech
terms of the immediate exigence for the Ghost Dancers, recall that the
Manifest destiny as a term derives
from nineteenth century journalist John O'Sullivan's now classic interpretation
This grand motivation was
needed to remind the
The analysis that follows considers the ways that Kicking Bear supported and promoted the Ghost Dance Movement upon his return from the pan-Indian meeting with Wovoka. Part of his speech unified his American Indian audience as the chosen people and, in turn, argued for the ways that the Great Spirit (God) rejected European-Americans who were similarly claiming this role. His appropriation of this strategy reflected the ways that Native spirituality melded with European-American ideologies of exceptionalism. Concurrently, Kicking Bear's speech constituted American Indians as chosen through the use of familial discourse and connections with Native ancestors.
In 1890, Kicking Bear accepted an invitation by Chief Sitting Bull to teach his Hunkpapa council about the Ghost Dance. In the speech, delivered to an all-Native audience and remembered, translated, and recorded by fellow Minneconjou Short Bull, Kicking Bear set about recounting his travels to Utah and his worship at the feet of the prophet Wovoka. As an introduction, it should be noted that Kicking Bear's oration is organized temporally in a three-part structure that moves through time from the present, then to the past and, finally, to the future. Kicking Bear began his speech by discussing the present condition of the Sioux Nation and by providing a rationale for his visit before Sitting Bull's Hunkpapa band. He noted, "My brothers … I bring you word from your fathers the ghosts, that they are now marching to join you … [I] am sent back with a message to tell you to make ready for the coming of the Messiah and return of the ghosts in the spring" (1). He then hearkened to the past as a basis for moving into the future.
He began in the present by building his credibility with the Hunkpapa through the enactment of a familial rhetoric, one that united both the speaker and audience as family through such words of "brothers" and "fathers" (1). He intimated that he, in the present, acted as a prophet to the Sioux Nation; he alone brought "word from your fathers the ghosts"; he had been entrusted by the Great Spirit and his surrogate, Wovoka, and hence crafted a prophetic ethos (presence and character) for himself (1). Sitting Bull and his band were instructed to listen, then, to Kicking Bear as he brought forth a sacred message from the Great Spirit. And, this message involved all who were related to each other as what the Great Spirit referred to as "my children, the red men" (5). As he attempted to argue that the Great Spirit looked down on them equally as his Native children, such familial discourse might well have helped to ingratiate Kicking Bear to his audience.
Kicking Bear then moved
to the past by detailing his 1890 travels to
In discussing these
travels, Kicking Bear connected with his audience by evoking a pastoral setting
in which "the white man" was absent (3). He generalized his experience to the
Nation. If the Sioux's problems stemmed
from the presence of European-American intruders, American homesteaders and
U.S. Indian agents, then the land that Kicking Bear described, perhaps, colored
the audience's bleak outlook with a semblance of vibrancy and energy. There was, he insinuated through his mythic
tale, such a place; he had been there and it was from this land that hope
emanated. What retained robustness for
both Kicking Bear and his audience was the anticipation that the "ghosts"
would return to earth and make the Nation's very own
To that end, Kicking Bear reminded Sitting Bull's followers that the Sioux were the "chosen people for all future time" throughout the speech (6). As anointed people, the Sioux citizenry was asked to perform the Ghost Dance to encourage its fathers and the Great Spirit to return to earth. Kicking Bear built identification with his audience by enlisting them as veritable evangelists; they, as the chosen, were to spread news of the ghosts. In other words, they were given a spiritual errand. Kicking Bear narrated that the Great Spirit "told us to return to our people, and tell them, and all the people of the red nations, what we had seen; and he promised us that he would return to the clouds no more, but would remain at the end of the earth and lead the ghosts of our fathers to meet us when the next winter is passed" (6). Only through the communitarian undertaking of the Ghost Dance could the prophecy of Wovoka come to pass.
The principal way that Kicking Bear's call for unity as a "chosen people" manifested was through a call to dedicate themselves to the Great Spirit, a rhetoric reminiscent of Danforth's early Puritan sermon. In Kicking Bear's report of the prophecy, the "chosen people" would be reunited with their land and loved ones through the return of the Great Spirit:
Then from an opening in the sky we were shown all the countries of the earth and the camping-grounds of our fathers since the beginning; all were there, the teepees, and the ghosts of our fathers, and the great herds of buffalo, and a country that smiled because it was rich and the white man was not there … And he told us that he was going to come again on earth, and this time he would remain and live with the Indians, who were his chosen people (3).
Bear communicated this personal glimpse of the promise land as a persuasive
tactic in promoting the Ghost Dance among the Hunkpapa Sioux. If they heeded his word and performed the
dance, they, too, would see the promise land.
Their experience with the camping grounds, ancestors, buffalo and "rich"
earth would not be an ethereal vision, however, but rather a material
reality. As the "chosen people,"
the Sioux Nation, Kicking Bear said, could satisfy the Great Spirit's wish so
that even a personified "country" would smile upon the plentiful land
and expulsion of "the white man" (3). The appropriation of the
Kicking Bear moved into the future by noting that the Sioux, as the "chosen people," had fulfilled a moral inheritance to the Great Spirit (3). As Kicking Bear relayed, the Great Spirit admitted that it was time to choose new people to replenish the earth, and that American Indians had been overlooked for far too long. The Great Spirit's point was clear, Kicking Bear argued:
Take this message to my red children and tell it to them as I say it. I have neglected the Indians for many moons, but I will make them my people now if they obey me in this message. The earth is getting old, and I will make it new for my chosen people, the Indians, who are to inhabit it, and among them will be all those of their ancestors who have died, their fathers, mothers, brothers, cousins and wives-all those who hear my voice and my words through the tongues of my children (5).
children" who obeyed and danced would be saved during the coming of the
earth's new beginning. To this effect, the Great Spirit continued, "… the
sea to the west I will fill up so that no ships may pass over it, and the other
seas will I make impassable. And while I am making the new earth the Indians
who have heard this message and who dance and pray and believe will be taken up
in the air and suspended there, while the wave of new earth is passing"
(5). This quotation, in particular, harkened to a Noah's
The theme that
European-Americans had been rejected as a chosen people (reminiscent of
European and European-American discourses in the eighteenth century claiming
that God shunned, as Roy Harvey Pearce writes, the "rude and uncultivated …
Indian savages … incapable of civilization") continued on in the speech. Of course, in this version of the story,
American Indians were the favored group.
Kicking Bear, for instance, claimed that the Great Spirit would prevent European-Americans
from extending their railroads into the promise land in the West and would halt
them at the threshold of the Sioux Nation.
He hearkened to the Great Spirit's promise: "I [the Great Spirit] will
cover the earth with new soil to a depth of five times the height of a man, and
under this new soil will be buried all the whites, and all the holes and rotten
places will be filled up" (5). Note
the similarity of this prophecy to the biblical story of
Such favor would also be granted if the Sioux honored their past, specifically their collective ancestors who died fighting back the ebb of European-American encroachment. Kicking Bear argued that Native forebears would not have perished in vain if the Sioux chose to honor them, and the Great Spirit, through the dance. Kicking Bear's audience owed it to the Great Spirit and the ancestors to accept the "new" world. If they did as the Great Spirit said, their ancestors would return avenged and satisfied. The Great Spirit offered a final call to action: "Go then, my children [Kicking Bear and the others learning the Ghost Dance], and tell these things to all the people and make all ready for the coming of the ghosts" (5). Only when the past (the ghosts) merged with the present (the dancers) could the future commence (the resurgence of Native people and the replenishing of the land).
The Legacy of the Speech
Following Kicking Bear's speech,
Sitting Bull's band and the neighboring Lakota publics of Chiefs Big Foot,
Short Bull, and Red Cloud, adopted the Ghost Dance as a cultural recovery
practice. Importantly, the Lakota form of Wovoka's
ritual was "less interested in accommodation" than the Piute Nation's
practice. Kicking Bear's teachings, conveyed between
October 1890 and December 1890, especially emphasized the ruination of European-American
cultures. Not surprisingly, "government
agents entrusted with civilizing the Lakota were angered by the strengthening
of traditional Lakota culture, the abandonment of (work) while people gathered
to dance, and by prayers that were directed at their imminent destruction at
the hands of God." Ultimately, the Ghost Dance was banned, its
leaders were jailed, and the movement was forced underground. Big Foot, a Hunkpapa Sioux, often led the
Ghost Dance despite the
The Ghost Dance Movement of the
1890s did leave behind a legacy among contemporary American Indian activists. Though it ostensibly faded for decades, the Ghost
Dance was revived by the American Indian Movement (
Last Updated: July 2007
Jason Edward Black
is an Assistant Professor of Rhetorical Studies and the Graduate Recruitment
Director in the Department of Communication Studies at the
 W.C. Vanderwerth, Indian Oratory: Famous Speeches by
Noted Indian Chieftains (
 According to Gregory A. Waselkov, pan-Indianism is
the strategy of individual American Indian nations joining together into a
collective front. This unity, that
crosses tribal lines, involves "religion … and Indian political and
military unity." See Gregory A. Waselkov, A Conquering Spirit:
 William S.E. Coleman, Voices of Wounded Knee (
 The designation of "Sioux," derived from
the French translation of the Anishinabe word for snake (Nadowe-is-iw),
is an outdated and sometimes homogenous name for the three-branched indigenous
Nation that includes the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes. For the sake of clarity, however, I will use
this historical and contemporary designation. For more information on Sioux
genealogy, see Donna Hightower Langston, The Native American World (
 Vanderwerth, Indian Oratory, 243-244.
 Jason Edward Black, "Remembrances of Removal: Native Resistance to Allotment and the Unmasking of Paternal Benevolence," Southern Communication Journal 72:2 (2007), 185.
 Anatol Lieven, American Right or Wrong: An Anatomy
of American Nationalism (
 Samuel Danforth, "A Brief Recognition of
 Francis Paul Prucha, The Great Father: The
 Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird, ed., "Introduction,"
in Reinventing the Enemy's Language:
Contemporary Native Women's Writings of
 Though the designations of "tribe" and "nation"
are both correct when attributed to individual, unique, or collectively distinct
American Indian groups, I use the term "nation" (lower case when
discussing groups in general; upper case ["Nation"]) when speaking of
a particular indigenous group. "Tribe"
as a descriptor has come to represent a diminutive, powerless "group of
people united by ties of common descent from a common ancestor, community of
customs and traditions, adhering to the same leaders." In a sense, here, "tribe" is more
taxonomic than political. "Tribes"
exist apart from land, governments, negotiating power, and sovereignty. A "tribe" is defined by naturalized
characteristics of ancestry, descent, and customs. Alternatively, a "nation" is
"a body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is
sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government
peculiarly its own." Notice, here, that a "nation" is active and
conscious; it seeks government and possesses governmental ideologies. To refer to American Indian groups as
"tribes" is to construct them in a passive light, while elevating their
American counterparts as decision-makers, governments, sovereigns, and
confederations. As Steven Newcomb
(Shawnee/Lenapee member and Indigenous Law Research Center fellow) contends,
"If you were in a conversation with a representative of a member state of
the United Nations, and referred to that country, nation, or state as a 'tribe'
(for example, the 'tribe of the United States'), your remark would spark an
immediate and sharp response. No nation-state representative would allow his or
her country to be referred to as 'tribe.' In fact, that representative would
feel highly insulted because the Western mind immediately associates the word
'tribe' with 'primitive,' 'uncivilized,' 'backward,' and 'inferior.'" With Newcomb's argument in mind, I use
"nation" to demarcate American Indian groups, therefore using
"the most powerful terms in the English language to express … political
identity." See Steven Newcomb, "On the Words 'Tribe' and
'Nation,'" Indian Country Today 24:26 (
 Guy Gibbon, The Sioux:
The Dakota and Lakota Nations (
 Richard Morris and Phillip Wander argue that the period prior to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 found "displaced tribal identities in favor of the Indian" at times so severe "that Native Americans had become recognizable." That is, their identities had been merged with white characteristics to the point of near erasure. See Richard Morris and Phillip Wander, "Native American Rhetoric: Dancing in the Shadows of the Ghost Dance," Quarterly Journal of Speech 76 (1990): 165.
 For a complete graphic account of the changing boundaries within the Great Sioux Reservation between the 1850s and 1890s, see Coleman, Voices of Wounded Knee, 9-12. For a narrative account of the rankled negotiations involved in the Fort Laramie Treaty, see Dee Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (New York: Henry Holt, 2000), 416-444.
"Treaty with the Sioux of 1868" in The American Indian and the
 Gibbon, The Sioux, 135.
 Bill Yenne, Indian
Wars: The Campaign for the American West (
 Brown, Bury My Heart at
 Charles J. Kappler, ed., "Agreement with the Sioux of Various Tribes, 1882-83," Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol. II. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904).
 Creek Indians of Oklahoma, "To the Committee on Indian Affairs, a protest
against allotment of lands by the full blood Creek Indians" in Library of Congress, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs File, RG233, HR56A-H9.3. (1897, n.d.).
 Black, "Remembrances of Removal,"185.
 General Allotment (Dawes) Act of 1887, in
 For the full Allotment policy, see General Allotment
 Joe Starita, Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey (New York: Putnam's Sons, 1995), 99.
 Starita, Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, 97. For a complete biographical account of the Indian messiah, see Michael Hittman, Wovoka and the Ghost Dance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997).
 Robert Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846-1980 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984), 243.
 Francis Paul Prucha, The Indians in American Society: From the Revolutionary War to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 13-21. See also, Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
 Vanderwerth, Indian Oratory, 243-244.
 "A revitalization movement is a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture. Revitalization movements share a number of defining features: (1) they appear in the presence of extreme cultural stress during periods of rapid cultural change; (2) they originate in one or more hallucinatory visions by a single individual; (3) during the visions, one or more supernatural beings (God, the Great Spirit) appear to the prophet-to-be and outline a new way of life, (4) the new way of life is considered divinely sanctioned … (6) in an evangelistic or messianic spirit, the prophet reveals his revelations to other people; and (7) as a revolutionary act, the revitalization movement encounters some resistance from the dominant regional power." See Gibbon, The Sioux, 153.
 For more on American Indian
prophetic oratory, see William M. Clements, Orality in Native North America
 Kicking Bear, Address at the Council Meeting of the
Hunkpapa Sioux, Great Sioux Reservation, in My Friend the Indian, ed., James McLaughlin (New York: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1910): 185-189. All the remaining passages from
 For further discussion of
the consummatory function in contemporary and historical American Indian
protest and movements for social change, see Randall A. Lake, "Enacting
Red Power: The Consummatory Function in Native American Protest Rhetoric,"
Quarterly Journal of Speech 69 (1983): 127-142. With
 Peter Nabokov, Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-2000 (New York: Penguin, 1999), 469.
 In a later article,
 Gibbon, The Sioux, 154.
 Alvin M. Josephy, The
Indian Heritage of
 Donna Hightower-Langston, The Native American World (
 R. Douglas Hurt, The
Indian Frontier, 1763-1846 (
 Ronald Niezen, The
Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity (
 David G. Gutierrez,
"Significant to Whom?: Mexican Americans and the History of the American
West," in A New Significance: Re-Envisioning the History of the
American West, ed.,
 See Lyon Rathbun, "The Debate Over Annexing Texas and the Emergence of manifest Destiny," Rhetoric and Public Affairs 4:3 (2001): 459-493.
 John O'Sullivan,
 See Hietala, Manifest Design, 8-9.
 Sidney Lens, The Forging
of American Empire: From the Revolution to Vietnam-- A History of
 Laura Anne Whitt, "Cultural Imperialism and the Marketing of Native America," American Indian Culture and Research Journal 19 (1995): 5.
 For a discussion of God coming to human beings through the "Word" and for research on the role of rhetoric in communicating between divinities and human disciples, see Michael J. Hyde, Call of Conscience: Heidegger, Levinas, Rhetoric and the Euthanasia Debate (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001).
 Clement, Oratory in Native
 Roy Harvey Pearce, Savagism and Civilization: A Study of the Indian and the American Mind (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 1967), 47.
 Yenne, Indian Wars, 288-290.
 Brown, Bury My Heart at
 Gibbons, The Sioux, 154.
 Gibbons, The Sioux, 154.
 For narrative and documentary accounts of the Wounded Knee Massacre, see Coleman, Voices of Wounded Knee; Gibbons, The Sioux, 105-133; Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997); Starita, Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, 115-133; Robert M. Utley, The Last Days of the Sioux Nation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963); and Robert Allen Warrior, "Past and Present at Wounded Knee," Media Studies Journal 11 (1997): 69-75.
 Vanderwerth, Indian Oratory, 243-244. For more on Buffalo Bill and his traveling show, see Louis S. Warren, Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).
 Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (
 Raka Shome, "Postcolonial Interventions in the Rhetorical Canon: An 'Other' View," Communication Theory 6 (1996): 42.
 See Hollywood's
Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film, eds. Peter C. Rollins
and John E. O'Connor (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1998); and Jason
Edward Black, "Native Mascotting as a Neocolonial Discourse: Homologies of
U.S. Colonial Ideologies and Pro-Mascot Rhetoric at the University of Illinois
and Florida State University," in CHiEEEEEF!
Indigenous Critical Theory and the End of Dancing Indians, eds., Jodi Byrd,
D. Anthony Tyeeme Clark, and Debbie Reese (Urbana-Champaign:
 Hightower-Langston, Native American World, 328.
 Nabokov, Native American Testimony, 360-362.
 Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from
 Hightower-Langston, Native American World, 328.