Westward knee. Through an examination of the impact of

Westward expansion
of whites represented a destructive time for religion in North America. The
concept of Manifest Destiny allowed white settlers the excuse to invade land
and cultures under the guise of divine right of exploration and settlement. The
Library of Congress gives an example of this concept with, “A government
report, The Indians of Southern California in 1852, explained that many
Californians believed ‘destiny had awarded California to the Americans to develop’
and that if the Indians ‘interfered with’ progress they should be pushed aside”
(Removing Native Americans). Westward expansion as a whole consists of many
different events that all point to important times in religious history. These
periods help explain mostly the decline of Native American religion and the
impact the invading whites had on their societies. In this essay I will focus
specifically on the Sioux culture and the Battle of Wounded knee. Through an
examination of the impact of whites on the Sioux society and thus the Battle at
Wounded Knee, it will illuminate the trend of white led destruction of Native
American religion that was happening across the country, which has produced the
state of Native American religious culture today.

Within 21 years of
1868, the American government passed three different treaties that both limited
the land that the Sioux called home and forced them to stay within a set of
confined boundaries (Utley 2004). This was extremely detrimental to Sioux
religion and culture because their society was both nomadic and war based.  The Sioux people had for decades wandered to
find food resources, along with, they would war with competing tribes for the
right of superiority. Their religion began to surround this lifestyle.  As Utley states, “for men and women alike,
religion dominated nearly every thought and activity. It reflected their nomadic,
outdoor life. Living close to nature, dependent upon its bounty for survival,
the Tetons (Sioux) felt themselves part of nature, and nature extension of
themselves (Utley 2004). Utley here makes the connection of their religion to
their nomadic, outdoor lifestyle. A lifestyle that in the end was limited due
to the white settlers’ forced proclamations and their reservation system. Planning
and raiding was no longer an activity possible. War societies ceased to play
their valuable role in society so they completely vanished. “An Indian’s
ambition does not run the plow and harrow, but rather in the direction of
prominence as a war chief or fighting man” (Utley 2004). This along with forced
introduction of Christian ideals and beliefs continued to destroy the Sioux

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When the white
settlers of America enforced their land treaty acts, parts of the requirements
allowed white Christian missionaries to go into these reserve and attempt to
civilize the Sioux through the spread of their religion (Utley 2004). The
missionaries would show up and implement themselves into Sioux society. They
would then seek to infiltrate the core doctrine of Sioux society with their
messages of the Christian fate. This grew in the form of Christian charted
schools on the territories, missionary led teaching to the medicine men and
spiritual leaders, and held Christian services. These incorporations produced
hybrid branches of their own religions that results in the watered down version
the Sioux’ religion—thus a disguised destruction of the Sioux way of life. This
infiltrating religion serves as focal point of explanation for the climax of
the battle at Wounded Knee (Utley 2004).

During the battle
at Wounded Knee, the American Government was sent with the mission to disarm and
take the final step toward societal castration by dividing the men from the
women and sending them to different reservations (Utley 2004). Although their
religion did end up being destroyed with finality, the peaceful process the
American Government foresaw happening, did not take place.  The American soldiers and Indian police had
forced the woman and children apart from the males in their make shift teepee
village. The Police were asking the Sioux to give up their weapons so they
could be safely put on trains and sent away, but just as this was happening,
their lead Spiritual figure, Yellowbird, began doing the Ghostdance. The
Ghostdance embodied that last remaining tendril of religious freedom and
control that the Sioux had over the invading white (Utley 2004).

The Ghostdance was
a spiritual event created by Wovoka who was a spiritual leader amongst the
Sioux tribe. He claimed that the dance stemmed from a vision he had during a
solar eclipse in 1889. During this vision Jesus Christ came back in Paiute
form. Wovoka saw the white men being thrown back into the ocean, and the Sioux
getting their land back. He then saw men doing this Ghostdance in the vision to
hasten the expulsion of the whites and the coming of Christ (Utley 2004).

Wovoka began to teach that in order for this specific series of events to come
true, the Sioux would need to perform the Ghostdance. As the white people began
suppressing their religion without even understanding it, the Ghostdance became
more violent as the Sioux used it as a last resort and an avenue to express their
anger and frustration (Utley 2004).

As Yellowbird
performed this dance, kicking up dust, and screaming out the syllables of the
spiritualistic dance, the whites there began to feel scared and thus the young
Sioux men felt agitated in return. Before they knew it, a gun one of the young
Sioux were hiding was fired into the crowd at the climax of Yellowbird’s dance,
calling for the white men to retaliate (Utley 2004). The Battle at Wounded Knee
is referred to as a massacre because of the mass loss of life experienced by
both parties and people of all ages and sexes, but not only was it a massacre
of people but it personified the annihilation of their religion and culture.

This death of the
Sioux’s religious tradition under the guise of westward expansion while
detrimental and sorrowful in its own shows the broad image of what happened to
most every Native American tribe in the era of Westward expansion. The concept
of Manifest Destiny and the mentality of Americans believing they were entitled
to the land the Native Americans were on resulted in the eventual destruction
of their society and thus their religious tradition. After examining the impact
of whites on the Sioux society and thus the Battle at Wounded Knee, the trend of
white led destruction of Native American religion, which has led to the state
of Native American religious culture today, becomes obvious. The Battle at
Wounded Knee is just one in a series of events that captures this progressive
destruction of Native Americans.