Activity 1: The Ghost Dance
The Ghost Dance was the vision of a Paiute prophet, Wovoka. As a nonviolent
religious movement that was spread among the Plains peoples during the 1880s,
its focus was the preservation of Native American culture against the
encroachment of the white man.
Believers participated in ecstatic dances and communal ceremonies so that a
new age of peace and prosperity would dawn for Native Americans. In 1890 the
movement ended when U.S. soldiers attacked a group of worshipers at Wounded
Knee, killing about 250 people.
The following two activities provide opportunities for students in grades
7-12 to gain an understanding of the Ghost Dance and its influence on the events
leading up to the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890.
Students will be asked to gather and organize information from various
sources and write either an expository paper (suggested for grades 7-9) or an
opinion paper (suggested for grades 10-12).
Several Web resources are provided, but further research is encouraged.
Ghost Dance: Description
Ask students to write a one-page description of the Ghost Dance. Their
description should include history of the Ghost Dance religion, rituals of the
Ghost Dance, factors in the rise of the Ghost Dance among the Sioux in the
1800s, and the influence of the Ghost Dance on the events leading up to the
Wounded Knee conflict. Students should use at least three sources in their
research for this assignment. Sources should be cited at the end of the paper.
Ghost Dance: Opinion
Ask students to write a one-page essay that states their opinion on the role
of the Ghost Dance in the conflict at Wounded Knee. Consider these questions:
Was the Ghost Dance a major factor in causing the conflict? Why or why not? How
might events have been different if some of the Sioux people had not adopted the
Ghost Dance religion and practices? How did the white peoplesí fears of the
Ghost Dance affect the outcome? Were those fears justified? Students should use
at least three sources in their research for this assignment. Sources should be
cited at the end of the paper.
- Introduce the topic of the Ghost Dance and review segments of Lost Bird
of Wounded Knee to gain a perspective on the religion and its effects on
the events leading up to the Wounded Knee conflict.
- Provide students with the suggested web sites for research and tell them
they are to use at least three sources for their research. These sites may
be included in the research requirement, but further research is encouraged.
Provide students with examples of other sources they may use. Provide
students with guidelines for citing sources.
Standards: (Source: McREL K-12 Standards at www.mcrel.org)
Historical Understanding Standard 2: Understands the
Level 3 (Grade 7-8)
- 2. Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on
a period of history.
Level 4 (Grade 9-12)
- 1. Analyzes the values held by specific people who
influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history.
- 2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had
on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in
the absence of those ideas and beliefs. (Opinion activity)
U. S. History Standard 19: Understands federal Indian
policy and United States foreign policy after the Civil War.
- 1. Understands interaction between Native Americans and
- 2. Understands influences on and perspectives of Native
American life in the late 19th century.
Language Arts Standard 1: Demonstrates competence in the
general skills and strategies of the writing process.
- 6. Writes expository compositions. (Description activity)
- 10. Writes persuasive compositions. (Opinion activity)
- 7. Writes expository compositions. (Description activity)
- 9. Writes persuasive compositions that evaluate, interpret,
and speculate about problems/solutions and causes and effects. (Opinion
- Web page for the SD Public Broadcasting documentary Lost
Bird of Wounded Knee.
- Web page for the PBS documentary The West.
- Looks at the Ghost Dance from the Lakota perspective in an
essay that asks "Are we about to do it again?"
- Images and recollections of the Ghost Dance from
illustrator and photographer James Mooney.
- MSNBC web page on the Ghost Dance