Kanakuk (d. 1852)

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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 self-interest 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 time.


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.