Boarding School and Land Allotment Eras 1879-1933

1883

Religious Crimes Code of 1883 bans Native dances, ceremonies

Henry Moore Teller, approved the code. Image: Library of Congress
Henry Moore Teller, approved the code. Image: Library of Congress

Congress bans all Native dancing and ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, Ghost Dance, potlatches, and the practices of medicine persons. The Code gives Indian agents authority to use force, imprisonment, and the withholding of rations to stop any cultural practices they deem immoral or subversive to federal government-mandated assimilation policies. Courts of Indian Offenses are created as well as Indian police forces, established, paid for, and supervised by the federal government to replace Native governance. Enforcement of this law eventually leads to the massacre of Big Foot's band at Wounded Knee in 1890. Commission of Indian Affairs Charles Burke continues to issue anti-dancing directives well into the 1920s. The Code is amended in 1933 to eliminate the ban on Indian dances. The effect of this law is to drive Indian religious ceremonies such as the Ghost dance and the Sun dance underground. This piece of legislation is not repealed until the 1970s. The Code is one of various methods that the U.S. employs to try to restrict the cultural identity of American Indian tribes. Many political, cultural, and spiritual leaders are imprisoned (Nies, 1996 & "Code of Indian offenses," 1883).

Settler Colonial Policy