This day in history: The Ghost Dance begins, and other news and events

In this post:

  • This Day in History, 1889: A prophetic vision for the Ghost Dance
  • Under treaties, the U.S. has a ‘Duty to Protect’ Native Nations — and it should be court enforceable, author says
  • Indigenous and Faith Leaders United in Climate Justice Zoom event, Tuesday, Jan. 10

This day in history, Jan. 1, 1889: A prophetic vision for the Ghost Dance

The Ghost dance by the Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge Agency-Drawn by Frederic Remington. Image: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Piaute spiritual leader Wovoka had a prophetic vision of the Ghost Dance, “after falling into a coma during the solar eclipse of January 1, 1889,” Wikipedia writes.

If properly practiced, the dance was to “reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits to fight on their behalf, end American westward expansion, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native American peoples throughout the region.”

Wovoka’s prophecies used Christian concepts. “In the ‘Messiah Letters’, Wovoka spoke of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth and likened the foretold redemption of Native Americans to a biblical Judgement Day.”

The Ghost Dance began in Nevada, where Wovoka lived. It spread rapidly among a number of Native Nations, including the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Comanche, Native Philanthropy said.

It took different shapes with different Nations. For instance, for the Lakota in included a belief in the return of the buffalo.

The dancing panicked American settlers. They called for U.S. Army intervention, Native Philanthropy said.

This backlash contributed “to the death of Sitting Bull as well as the … the massacre at Wounded Knee.”

Under treaties, the U.S. has a ‘Duty to Protect’ Native Nations — and it should be court enforceable, author says

Tribal governments have sued the United States for underfunding health care, education, and law enforcement in Indian Country, writes Michigan Law School Professor Matthew Fletcher in a recent article. They almost always lose.

“This is wrong,” Fletcher writes. The United States “has fulfilled only a tiny portion of its obligations to Indian people and tribal nations.”

U.S. treaties with Native Nations have vague language about protecting them. Fletcher’s article argues the judiciary should recognize and enforce aspects of this Duty to Protect.

According to the article’s abstract:

The United States and every federally recognized tribal nation originally entered into a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship highlighted by the duty of protection, a doctrine under international customary law in which a larger, stronger sovereign agrees to “protect” the small, weaker sovereign. The larger sovereign agrees to this duty of protection, in the American case anyway, in exchange for massive, occasionally unquantifiable amounts of land and resources … The smaller sovereigns, in this case, tribal nations, typically received protected reservation lands, hunting and fishing rights, small cash infusions, and the vague promise of protection. …

The duty of protection was left undefined in Indian treaties. Yes, the treaties and other agreements that established a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship did provide for specific details about that relationship, most famously hunting and fishing rights or criminal jurisdiction. But most treaties and agreements are sparse, leaving open most of the details about that relationship.

The Dark Matter of Federal Indian Law: The Duty of Protection

Indigenous and Faith Leaders United in Climate Justice event, Jan. 10

Join faith and Indigenous leaders as they roll out “a bold 2023 legislative agenda,” one that centers Indigenous leadership, drives equity, demands 100% clean renewable electricity, and leverages, federal dollars to put Minnesotans to work rebuilding our energy infrastructure. 

Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL) is organizing the Zoom event. Click here for the event page to register.

Speakers currently include (with more to be named!):

  • Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth
  • Patricia Torres Ray
  • Jim Bear Jacobs, co-director for racial justice at the Minnesota Council of Churches and MNIPL board co-chair
  • Sara Wolff, strategic policy director at MNIPL
  • Joshua Lewis, climate organizer at MNIPL

Co-sponsors are: Honor the Earth, Jewish Community Action, Minnesota Council of Churches, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA), and the EcoFaith Network of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA.

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