Ghost Dances and Identity: Prophetic Religion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century

Feb 15th, 2011 | By | Category: 22-3: Food Sovereignty, Spring 2011, Media Reviews

By Gregory E. Smoak
University of California Press (2006)

Review by Bradley Shreve

When most of us think of the Ghost Dance, we invariably conjure up images of the Lakota and the massacre at Wounded Knee on that cold December day in 1890. Gregory Smoak’s recent book, Ghost Dances and Identity, shows that the religious movement had widespread appeal and lasting influence among Native peoples throughout much of the West.

Smoak argues that for the Shoshone and Bannock, the Ghost Dance served a distinctly functional purpose. It offered a way to make sense of the catastrophic changes that came with the European invasion. The author maintains that the Ghost Dance initiated a new intertribal consciousness among its practitioners—it was, in Smoak’s words, “an expression of an American Indian identity that countered the United States’ attempts to assert a particular national identity.”

Ghost Dances and Identity broadens our understanding of this important 19th century religious movement and underscores Native peoples’ resistance to forced assimilation. The book is a welcome addition to the literature and is ideal for a graduate seminar or upper division course on American Indian history and/or race and ethnicity in the United States.

Bradley Shreve is chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at Diné College where he teaches history and is currently revising his book, Red Power Rising, for the University of Oklahoma Press.

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