Ghost Dance (Story by R.C. Peris)

I’m not sure why they think our ancestors can help us. I asked my mama and she slapped me.

“Our ancestors will save us,” she said.

So many of us died when the white men brought the measles. Then they brought guns. Bullets that could pierce the skin from far away. Each day they take more of our land or ration us. They are trying to starve us and make us homeless. Some of us have learned English and work for the white man. The Lakota warrior, Sitting Bull, even joined a circus. He traveled around the country in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. I thought it odd but they paid him money and when the federal government cut our rations Sitting Bull bought us food. Flour, beef, molasses.

Now they are talking about a treaty. There are men here from a place called Washington. My tribe has decided to do the Ghost Dance. It began with the Pauite. It is an old dance. We summon all the dead relatives from their rest to help us fight the white man. It is also a cross-cultural support amongst all natives. At times we have fought each other, but with the white man pushing the Western boundary and taking our land we have had to work together.
Sitting Bull said he would lead the ghost dance. We listen to him. He took down Custer. There are bullets still in his body. We would gather in a circle and they would beat drums. The warrior beat.

I am only ten and when I go to town to collect flour and whiskey, white men and women spit on me. One man beat me and I lay in a ditch with flour scattered over my body. The white men are getting restless and angry. They know about the Ghost Dance. They are afraid. The white men have their own religion and their own dead ancestors and leaders have power. They pray to a dead man named Jesus. They pray to raise him from the ground and protect them. To help them win.

On the night of the Ghost Dance, I knew our ancestors would not save us. The white men have stronger ancestors. They also have many guns, horses, and diseases. The white men will win. I stood in the circle and then pulled away. On the horizon, I saw the shadows of the white man’s army. I ran to my home as all the people of my tribe were attacked. Only a few survived. I left the Dakotas and joined the Paiute.

“We are one,” I reminded them. And then I shared the story of our Ghost Dance. The Elders only nodded. There was a look of resignation on their faces. I could see defeat. I was lost and our ancestors were silent or at least not powerful enough to defeat the white men. I pushed West to the coast. But the white men were still coming. If I were to survive I had to become them. So I learned English, dressed like a lady, and ate their foods. But at night I talked to the ghosts. I would never forget my ancestors. When I gave birth to a half white baby I looked into her eyes and I could barely see the past. The ancestors were disappearing with each month. I no longer spoke Lakota. I was a proper woman now with a baby who did not have the blood of the ancestors whispering to her in the long nights.


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