Dance of the Warrior: Ghost Dance

By Julye Huggins
La La La Human Steps perform New Work

Here is an excerpt of the 2001 film Dance of the Warrior directed by Marie Brodeur. According to the National Film Board of Canada’s website, the work investigates the paradox inherent in warrior dance rituals from around the world and how “the ‘aggression’ of these performances contributes to social and individual peace.”This particular segment highlights the Ghost Dance practiced in North America, touching on a sensitive history of colonial relations with aboriginal cultures. Wowoka (aka Jack Wilson) was a Nevada Paiute raised by a white family. Around age thirty he began weaving various cultural strains (including ideas from Christianity) into spiritual prophesies. In 1887 he predicted that the Indian way of life would be restored through their ritual dancing - adapted to the circumstances of local groups, the hopeful message of the Ghost Dance was translated into their own songs and dances. The movement spread across the Great Plains and the West, including Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians in a peaceful and faith-driven resistance to white authority. The Sioux in particular believed the dance and their buckskin tunics (the Ghost Shirt) would bring them safety, even from the White Man’s bullets. Flint Shooting Star Bright Blue Sky Eagle (Mohawk) notes that the Ghost Dance catalyzed the fears of the colonists who failed to understand its message of hope and spirit, and as a result became a contributing factor in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 and the last stages of the downfall of the Indian nations.
Learn more:National Film Board of CanadaBiography of Wowoka

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