Manufacturer: Cable Publishing
Most Americans don’t know who Louis Riel is, nor who that remarkable people the Métis were; nor do they know that there were many important Americans influenced by the Empire-driven ideas of Manifest Destiny who had serious designs on acquiring for the United States all of what is now Canada west of Ontario from the 90th meridian to the North Pole and to the Pacific. These included US senators (Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota), Cabinet members (William Seward of Seward’s folly) and American Presidents (US Grant, for one, briefly).
Nor are we aware that our Plains Indian Wars of the 1840-1890s were a
mirror of the Métis-First Citizen wars of the Northwest Territories of Canada. Louie Riel, Gabriel Dumont, the Prophet Wovoka and Sitting Bull had parallel careers. Little Big Horn and Duck Lake and Tourond’s Coulee are shadows of each other as are Wounded Knee and the disaster of the battle of Batoche in Saskatchewan. The Battle of the Little Big Horn, the assassination of Sitting Bull, the Ghost Dance Religion, the religious agony and execution of Louis Riel for treason against the Queen sadly mirror each other.
These events, dramatized in Ghosts Dancing, are all recounted as David St.
Clair and his Métis friend Pilgrim journey through the Western Frontier.
Overhead, the northern lights, the Dancing Ghosts, the Wawatay—which the
Ojibwe believe to be their ancestors’ spirits—swirl, warning of impending peril.
With each on his own quest, David St. Clair and Pilgrim wander through the
recently surrendered lands of the Native Americans. Portrayed here is the
nightmare vision Riel’s execution and of the Wounded Knee Massacre. We see
it clearly, as we have seen so much of the narrative, through St. Clair’s eyes; but nothing could have prepared him for that bitter day of December 29, 1890. Sickened by what he witnesses, and powerless to do anything about it,
his breaking point comes when he sees a fleeing Sioux mother pitilessly cut
down from behind by a soldier’s rifle shot. St. Clair’s universe implodes in an instant and he sees, in his mind’s and heart’s eye, his childhood home and his father’s and mother’s lives being destroyed as the Sioux innocents’ lives are being destroyed in front of him.
Ghosts Dancing is a good example of history turned into good fiction. The characters and events are woven into a story that is part truth and part fiction making it an excellent read for the history buff. The author draws comparisons between events and well-known figures in this country with those residing in Canada in that time period.
Louis Real a white man (7/8ths.white and 1/8th Indian) wanted a separate country for the people referred to as the “Metis.” Eventually he was executed by the Canadian Government. Wovoka a Northern Paiute medicine man who created the Ghost Dance and many other characters that will draw you into Fortney’s book.
The mix of fiction and non-fiction is done so artfully you will finish reading the book and unless quite familiar with history will never realize the difference, this is not a bad thing, and it speaks to the creativity of the author and his ability to accomplish so much within the pages of this book. A great read.
Reviewed by: Jim Greenwald (2012)