Kanakuk (d. 1852)
Kanakuk, a nineteenth-century Native American visionary,
arose among the Kickapoo in the years immediately after the
War of 1812 as the government pursued its policy of moving
all of the Native American people to the Louisiana territory
west of the Mississippi River. In 1819 the Kickapoo signed the
Treaty of Edwardsville by which they ceded their land in Illinois
to the United States and agreed to move onto newly set-aside
land in Missouri. However, several years later it was noticed
that the move had not been made. Intervening in the situation
was Kanakuk. Earlier, he had experienced a vision of the Great
Spirit. As a result of his first vision, he commenced a journey
during which he received a set of revelations.
In his second vision, the Great Spirit called for the Native
Americans to give up the use of their medicine bags, bags that
contained items used in various forms of folk magic, and to live
a life without lies, quarreling, and murder. Their unwillingness
to do as the Great Spirit said would result in disaster for the
people. The Great Spirit also reaffirmed the revelation received
by Tenskwatara a decade earlier that the land did not
belong to any one Native American group, but by all collectively,
hence no one group could sign any of it away (as was occurring
in the various treaties).
Kanakuk found a significant response among his own people
and resided among them as a spiritual leader who regularly
brought forth (channeled) messages. He spoke to their selfinterest
and offered his message of behavioral reform, which
came to include the cessation of whiskey consumption, as the
means to their ability to remain at home. He also gathered
them together for meetings on Sunday that led some whites
who observed him to conclude mistakenly that his followers
had converted to Christianity. He had absorbed various elements
of Christianity that he had integrated into his own teachings,
but was staunchly opposed to the efforts of missionaries
to convert Native Americans. His message also spread to other
tribes. He gave his followers a flat stick with various prayers and
hieroglyphics carved on it. The prayers were cited the first
thing in the morning and just before retiring in the evening.
Eventually, the movement delayed but did not prevent the
removal of the Kickapoo to the West, and they eventually settled
on land in Kansas. There Kanakuk died in 1852 of smallpox.
Prior to his death he predicted that he would rise again
in three days, and his followers waited before his body for some
Mooney, James. ‘‘The Ghost-Dance Religion and the Sioux
Outbreak of 1890.’’ In the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau
of Ethnology. Compiled by J. W. Powell. Washington Government
Printing Office, 1896.