Author (Your Name)

Jacob Culbertson, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Anthropology Dept.




On December 29, 1890 the United States Seventh Calvary descended upon a group of practitioners of the blossoming Ghost Dance religion and killed more than 300 Indians belonging to multiple Northern Plains nations. The massacre at Wounded Knee Creek was the apex of the United States government's violent campaign to win the American west from its original inhabitants, and it marked a transition in strategy in the young republic's assault on Native America. Having essentially won the land battles to annex the bulk of the economically valuable Native territory, the United States turned its attention away from the physical disposal of Native bodies towards an organized persecution the Native cultures and consciousness. The massacre at Wounded Knee was more an attack on the potentially subversive Ghost Dance religion than an attack on its actual practitioners, marking the ideological transition from genocide to ethnocide in the ongoing effort to solve the "Indian problem." Although "ethnocide" implies a more violent crusade to subjugate or eliminate a culture, the seemingly more placid term "assimilation," which is commonly used to describe the U.S. hegemony's warm invitation to cultural minorities to conform to the dominant sense of reality and social norms, essentially works to the same affect. "An assimilationist policy is one that attempts to integrate a distinct people into a mainstream society, to make them disappear-," explains Ronald Niezen. "Not through massacre but a bloodless process of education and "development," often crouched in terms of "equal rights" for all citizens" (Niezen 8). In discussing the prohibition of the Peyote religion at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Niezen notes that the opposition to the religion was not simply founded in a moral objection to the use of hallucinogenic drugs, "but their motives seem to have run deeper than this, into the dangerous currents of national and tribal identities and the need of those in power to impose a uniform standard of truth" (Niezen 141). This new standard of truth, the retelling of history and the reformation of reality, has been the driving force behind federal Indian policy since it became apparent that killing them all was not really a viable option. This mentality continues to limit American Indians' freedom of cultural expression today.


Indians of North America -- Religion, Freedom of religion, Indians of North America -- Social life and customs, Indians of North America -- Cultural assimilation, United States -- Politics and government

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