Potawatomi Prophet
By the 1880s, the Native American tribes who had been
pushed from their traditional homes in the East to new lands
in the former Louisiana Territory had experienced a variety of
new movements. Each movement had been led by a prophet
visionary who spoke to their new situation, including the loss
of their land to white settlers and their forced removal to new
land. Most offered some hope that the whites would be driven
from the land. Among the Kickapoo, a prophet named
Kanakuk had arisen calling for a heightened morality as a condition
for the favor of the Great Spirit. From his visions, he had
developed a new religion that came to dominate his people and
found great favor among the Potawatomis. First introduced before
removal to the West, it led to the Kickapoo remaining in
the homeland for more than a decade after they should have
moved. It continued in their new home in Kansas until
Kanakuk’s death in 1852, after which it appeared to die out.
At the beginning of the 1880s there appeared among the
Potawatomi of Wisconsin a new prophetvisionary known only
as the Potawatomi Prophet. He began to spread his message
from the Great Spirit among the Winnebago and Ojibwa. In
1883 followers of the prophet introduced the prophet’s teachings
among the Kickapoo, and Potawatomi people then living
in Kansas. The teachings appeared to have been a mixture of
Christianity and traditional Native American beliefs but arose
as competition to the missionary efforts of various Christian
churches that were working among all the Native American
people at the time. The movement spread quickly, aided by the
memory of Kanakuk’s teachings.
The movement called for moral living according to the Ten
Commandments and offered special condemnation of some
particular evils attendant upon reservation life drunkenness,
horse racing, and gambling. The apocalyptic element, offering
the imminent end to white rule, had been abandoned in favor
of rewards in the next life. It found a response among those Native
Americans who had not joined a Christian church and who
remembered Kanakuk. While surviving for some years, it was
eventually overwhelmed by Christian missionary efforts.
Sources
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.

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