08 February 2024

Ghost Dancers and Other Voices

by Eve Fisher

Governor Kristi Noem was back in the news last week with her trip to the Texas border, her promise to stand tall with Gov. Abbott, to personally provide more razor wire to put in the Rio Grande and to send more National Guard Troops to the Border.  Meanwhile, South Dakota has not been reimbursed the $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars that Noem spent on the last deployment, and she has just admitted that she never expected to be, so suck it up, taxpayers!  She's only doing it for our own good!  

And she gave a speech to the South Dakota Legislature on the warzone at the border and how, here in South Dakota, the Bandido's "sub-gang" The Ghost Dancers are selling drugs all over the Rez:  

“Murders are being committed by cartel members on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and in Rapid City, and a gang called the Ghost Dancers are affiliated with these cartels,” Noem said. “They have been successful in recruiting tribal members to join their criminal activity.” (SOURCE)

Many of us in South Dakota went into a Symphony in F-Major over this and other statements, and we're not getting over it for a while.  Let me explain:


First of all, a little history on the Ghost Dance. It's a religious ceremony, a literal dance, begun in the 1880s by Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka (renamed Jack Wilson), who said that dancing it would "reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits to fight on their behalf, end American Westward expansion, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native American peoples throughout the region." It spread throughout the Native American communities of the West, and was - and is - very strong here in the Dakotas, among the Lakota people. (BTW, it even caught the interest of the Mormons, who had a tendency to believe in and listen to Native American prophets. One of the things that were used in the Ghost Dance, besides the Dance itself, was a Ghost Shirt that some believe to have been adapted from the Mormon temple garment.)  

The Lakota interpretation of Wakova's vision derived from their traditional idea of a "renewed Earth" in which "all evil is washed away". This Lakota interpretation included the removal of all European Americans from their lands:

They told the people they could dance a new world into being. There would be landslides, earthquakes, and big winds. Hills would pile up on each other. The earth would roll up like a carpet with all the white man's ugly things – the stinking new animals, sheep and pigs, the fences, the telegraph poles, the mines and factories. Underneath would be the wonderful old-new world as it had been before the white fat-takers came. ...The white men will be rolled up, disappear, go back to their own continent. - Lame Deer

Anyway, back in 1890 the US Government (warning, "spoiler" alert) broke a treaty with the Lakota by confiscating the Great Sioux Reservation and dividing it into 5 smaller reservations. They were making room for white homesteaders from the eastern United States; in addition, its purpose was to "break up tribal relationships" and "conform Indians to the white man's ways, peaceably if they will, or forcibly if they must". No more Native customs, language, clothing, or food - despite the fact that if you try to farm down around, say, the Pine Ridge Reservation, you are trying to farm a semi-desert. Hunting, yes. Farming? No...

(Above clip from the movie, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee")

So the Lakota started doing the Ghost Dance, and that scared the hell out of the US government. The local BIA agent claimed that Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader, was the real leader of the movement. A former agent, Valentine McGillicuddy, God bless her, saw nothing extraordinary in the dances and ridiculed the panic that seemed to have overcome the agencies, saying:

"The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians. If the Seventh-Day Adventists prepare the ascension robes for the Second Coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come."  Wikipedia

Of course nobody listened to her, and thousands of additional U.S. Army troops were deployed to the reservation. On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested for failing to stop his people from practicing the Ghost Dance. One of of Sitting Bull's men, Catch the Bear, fired at Lieutenant "Bull Head", striking his right side. He instantly wheeled and shot Sitting Bull, hitting him in the left side, between the tenth and eleventh ribs; this exchange resulted in deaths on both sides, including that of Sitting Bull.

Sitting Bull
This was almost immediately followed by the Massacre at Wounded Knee (December 28, 1890), where 153 Lakota, mostly women and children, were murdered in cold, cold, cold blood. Twenty US soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for their brave deeds, which were never rescinded.

Mass grave burial of the dead after Wounded Knee.  (Wikipedia)
The Ghost Dance movement went underground, but never died. During the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973, Leonard Crow Dog, spiritual leader of the the American Indian Movement (AIM), brought back the Ghost Dance, saying:  

"My great-grandfather's spirit gave me a vision to do this. The vision told me to revive this ceremony at the place where Chief Big Foot's ghost dancers, three hundred men, women, and children, had been massacred by the army, shot to pieces by cannons, old people, babies."  (Wikipedia)

And, after building a sweat lodge and doing a purification ritual, they did.  

So, when Governor Noem claimed that the Ghost Dancers are part of the Bandidos motorcycle gang... it infuriated a lot of people, and not just the Oglala Sioux Tribe. 

Although we might as well start with the Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out's announcement: 

“Due to the safety of the Oyate, effective immediately, you [Governor Noem] are hereby Banished from the homelands of the Oglala Sioux Tribe!" 
Star Comes Out said he took deep offense at her reference, saying the Ghost Dance is one of the Oglala Sioux’s “most sacred ceremonies,” and “was used with blatant disrespect and is insulting to our Oyate.” (AP News)

This is the second time Ms. Noem has been banned from the Rez.  The first time was in 2019, when Gov. Noem introduced bills and signed them into a law that basically criminalized the Lakota fervent opposition and peaceful protests to the Keystone XL Pipeline on tribal land, calling it "riot boosting", punishable by prison sentences of 5-25 years.  

And none of us will forget the beginning of Covid, when there were no vaccines and contagion rates were high, especially on the reservations, among the elderly. (The Lakota cherish their elders.) In March of 2020, the Cheyenne River Reservation tribal leaders established masked checkpoints on all the roads leading in and out of the reservation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and barred some drivers from passing through or stopping on the reservation. Noem said the checkpoints on state and federal highways were illegal because they were interfering with interstate commerce.  (BTW, a lot of the "interstate commerce" was nearby white ranchers wanting to go hunting on tribal lands and/or take a shortcut to their own grazing land.)  Anyway, the lawsuit failed, but eventually, in 2021, when the vaccines came out, the Reservation finally opened the checkpoints (AP).  The Rez never banned her, but they sure don't like her...  

Trivia fact(s) of the day:  South Dakota has 9 reservations, covering 5 million acres.  Pine Ridge and Rosebud are the largest.  Flandreau, the smallest, has the big Casino and is the most prosperous.  They're all important to South Dakota.


As Wonkette's Gary Legum wrote:  "You have to hand it to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who over the weekend found herself banned from the Oglala Sioux’s Pine Ridge Reservation for the second time in five years. She has now been banished from more Native land than the 7th Cavalry."

Meanwhile, Governor Noem has accused the Tribal President "of politicizing the issue".  

Honey, respect has to work both ways.  

That's it from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry and act like Goodfellas. And sometimes we just BS all over the place.


Meanwhile, if you're in the mood for a good read, check out Josh Pachter's Paranoia Blues.  Nominated for Best Anthony Award for an  Anthology, with GREAT stories, including my own "Cool Papa Bell".  Available at Amazon!

And both my own "A Time to Mourn" and John Floyd's "Wanted" are in the latest issue of Crimeucopia:  Say It Again, also available at Amazon.  


  1. Thanks for the history lesson- and congratulations on your recent stories!

  2. Jerry K. Sweeney08 February, 2024 08:26

    As always, thou hast the right of it. In spades forsooth.

  3. I always learn something in your posts, Eve! And yes, congrats on those stories - Melodie

  4. In sizing up the reservations in South Dakota, Cheyenne River is the second largest. Also I believe the reason she is a danger to our tribal people is that by crying Ghost Dancers, she is inciting the people of South Dakota much the same way politicians and the media did in 1890 which led to the massacre at Wounded Knee.

  5. Yes, Noem is inciting "certain people" to mistrust, suspicion and perhaps violence. Just to act like she knows something, when she's 100% wrong.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>