This brief Kinetescope movie was almost certainly shot on the same day as “Annie Oakley,” when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to Edison Studios to present their acts for the motion picture camera. In it, a group of Native American dancers demonstrate the “Ghost Dance,” a fairly new concept that was sweeping Native American tribes at the time – a circle dance to bring prosperity and unity to all native peoples of North America through re-connecting with the spirits of the dead. Edison’s catalog tells us that these are “genuine Sioux Indians, in full war paint and war costumes,” which may or may not be accurate, but it is hard to watch this and not wonder how they felt about it. As paid performers in the Wild West show, this performance may have simply represented a paycheck, or it may have been an opportunity to practice a ritual in which they genuinely believed, or it may have been a defilement of that ritual. Surely the cramped quarters of the Black Maria studio limited its size and grandeur. This does appear to be the first representation of Native Americans on motion film, and thus a milestone of sorts, but it has to be seen in the context of the colonialism and cultural appropriation that was accepted at the time.
Director: William K.L. Dickson
Camera: William Heise.
Run Time: 25 seconds
You can watch it for free: here.