Within the study of religion, the Sioux Ghost Dance is the exemplar of Native American prophetic movements. It is the religious revolt and millenarian movement most familiar to scholars of religion in America, who invariably invoke it in discussions of Native American religions. Although the Sioux Ghost Dance surely deserves serious attention, its persistent status as privileged example limits the way students of religion understand and interpret Native American movements.
Fixation upon the Sioux Ghost Dance encourages students of Native American religion to remain unversed in the many insurgencies of colonial history. The foregrounding of the Sioux Ghost Dance deflects attention from earlier Native American religious revolts that are equally significant for the study of religion in America, Native American religions, and cultural contact. For just the Eastern Woodlands, these include the Creek millenarian movement of 1813, the Shawnee prophetic movement of 1805, the Delaware revolt of 1763, the Yamasee war of 1715, the Powhatan revolts of 1644 and 1622, and many others that historians continue to uncover. Rather than ignore these movements, or assume that they are adequately represented by the Sioux Ghost Dance, scholars of religion should seek to recover their history and meaning.
A Discourse of Disappearing Indians
If the neglect of other Native American religious revolts were merely a matter of scholarly oversight, we could accomplish this project of recovery through a kind of historiographic affirmative action. Unfortunately, we deal not with an accidental shadow-zone in our knowledge system, but with a significant intellectual aporia.