God’s Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America
God’s Red Son is a piercing, poignant look at one of the more shameful events of our country’s infancy. Warren shines a light on the factors behind the infamous “Ghost Dance” of the Sioux and other indigenous peoples of North America during the end of the 19th century and how its subsequent destruction shaped much of our policies on religious freedoms.
The Ghost Dance was a burgeoning religion that preached of a Messiah that would come and foster peace between the white men and the Indians, that all of the deceased would return to life, and that “God” would make the earth bigger and return the vast buffalo herds. Participants would gather to dance in circles, sometimes to exhaustive frenzy. Some, but not all, wore special Ghost Dance shirts, believed to be able to deflect bullets. One of the most horrific massacres occurred at Wounded Knee Creek.
I have to admit, I had a hard time reading this book because of the emotions aroused. Like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, this book elicited a visceral reaction regarding how Americans treated the indigenous peoples. Our European ancestors had no real claim to the Americas to begin with. What was done, all that was done, to the indigenous peoples was a horrific atrocity packaged as “assimilation.”
We eradicated a baby religion. What might it have become if we had not done so? Religions develop in response to a need for succor. Who are we to say one is wrong and the other right? Of course, it wasn’t about that, was it? Not really. It was a political move to keep a defeated people dejected. To “keep them in their place.”
Having Native American ancestry in my paternal lineage, this hits a bit closer to home. My grandmother, now deceased, would tell me stories of her half-Cherokee grandmother. She felt the same call to the ancestors as I do and fostered it in me. She gave me my copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a copy that had once been gifted to her by her sons, my uncle and my da. Today it is a treasured part of my vast library that I revisit every few years.
Highly recommended, especially if you enjoy Native American or early American history.
Louis S. Warren
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