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Ghost Dances and Identity

Prophetic Religion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century

Gregory Smoak

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

During the time it took to write this book, I ran up a debt to many fine people and institutions. The Department of History at the University of Utah provided generous support through many of those years. The University’s Tanner Humanities Center awarded me a year-long graduate student fellowship, ...

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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. ...


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pp. 12-27

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I. Identity and Prophecy in the Newe World

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pp. 13-14

When the members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide and descended into what is today Idaho’s Lemhi Valley, they entered a complex and dynamic native world created by the ancestors of the modern Shoshone-Bannock people. ...

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1. Snakes and Diggers: The Origins of Newe Ethnic Identities

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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. ...

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2. Shamans, Prophets, and Missionaries: Newe Religion in the Nineteenth Century

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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. ...


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pp. 82-97

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II. Identity, Prophecy, and Reservation Life

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pp. 83-84

By the 1860s, Shoshone- and Bannock-speaking peoples lived in a world that was increasingly not of their making. On the heels of the massive overland emigration came the flood of permanent white settlement. The newcomers could not be overwhelmed or ignored. ...

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3. Treaty Making and Consolidation: The Politics of Ethnogenesis

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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. ...

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4. Two Trails: Resistance, Accommodation, and the 1870 Ghost Dance

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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.” ...

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5. Culture Wars, Indianness, and the 1890 Ghost Dance

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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. ...

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Conclusion: Prophecy and American Identities

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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. ...


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pp. 207-250

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 251-270


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pp. 271-289

E-ISBN-13: 9780520941724
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520246584

Page Count: 302
Publication Year: 2006