Potawatomi Prophet

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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 prophet/visionary 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.


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.