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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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Activities: Author Activities

Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa) - Teaching Tips

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  • In Chapters VI and VII of From the Deep Woods to Civilization, Eastman narrates the development of the Ghost Dance religion among the Sioux. Explain to your students that the Ghost Dance was a Native American response to Euro-American encroachments on their land and way of life. A powerful apocalyptic vision of the overthrow of white domination and a return to traditional Native American ways, the Ghost Dance sparked a pan-Indian, intertribal movement that frightened white authorities with its intensity. Started by the Paiute prophet Wovoka, who believed himself to be a Messianic figure, the Ghost Dance involved adopting traditional clothing and customs, singing and chanting traditional songs, and participating in a trance-inducing round dance designed to inspire dead Indian ancestors to return and reclaim their land. The movement ended tragically when white authorities killed 150 Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee for their involvement in the Ghost Dance religion. After you give students this background information, ask them to evaluate Eastman's account of the Ghost Dance and the massacre at Wounded Knee. With whom are his sympathies? How does he portray the development of the Ghost Dance? How does he portray the massacre at Wounded Knee? What is his own relationship to the movement?

  • In the opening sentences of Chapter VI, Eastman explains his own, somewhat liminal position on the Pine Ridge Agency: "In 1890 a 'white doctor' who was also an Indian was something of a novelty." Ask students to analyze Eastman's characterization of his own identity. Why does he describe himself as a "white" doctor? Why does he put quotation marks around the word "white"? What problems are inherent in perceiving himself as simultaneously "white" and "also an Indian"?

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