Those Doomed Indian Dances

Charles Henry Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1921-29, pledged in 1923 to put a stop to Native American sacred dances.

As this 1923 New York Times Magazine article noted:

The objections of the Commissioner… are that the dances take up too much time, that they interfere with work, and that they are evil and foolish. The Commissioner says that if at the end of one year he finds the Indians are not yet doing as he requests “some other course will have to be taken.”

That could lead to the demise of various rituals including:

Should the Commissioner of Indian Affairs hold to his decision, another year will bring to an end the Hopi Snake Dance, the Flute Dance, the Corn Dance of Santo Domingo, San Felipe, and other pueblos of the Rio Grande, the Festival of San Geronimo at Taos, the Shalago of Zuni, the Deer, Buffalo, and Antelope Dances, besides other beautiful religious ceremonies, among which are some “secret” festivals.

Formerly a congressman from South Dakota, Burke issued his directive to provide teeth to a federal law called the Code of Indian Offenses in 1883, which had banned Native American dances.

In 1923, Native Americans were still not granted U.S. citizenship. That wouldn’t be changed until the next year, with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

However, such dances wouldn’t be explicitly allowed under federal law for more than 50 years, until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

Those Doomed Indian Dances

Published: Sunday, April 8, 1923

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