Ghost Dance

keystone leak

This aerial photo shows spills from TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone pipeline, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, that leaked an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil onto agricultural land in northeastern South Dakota – Credit: AP.

“You gotta get up off that grey line…I’ll guarantee they’ll fall in line…”

A federal agency says a leak in TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone oil pipeline in South Dakota likely was caused by damage during construction in 2008.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a corrective action report Tuesday on the estimated 5,000 barrels (795,000 litres) of oil that spilled. The report says a weight installed on the pipeline nearly a decade ago may have damaged the pipeline and coating.

According to the report, weights are placed on the pipeline in areas “where water could potentially result in buoyancy concerns.”

Keystone pipeline leak in South Dakota likely caused by 2008 damage: report
28 November 2017 - The Associated Press

A Native American tribe in South Dakota is on edge following a large oil leak from TransCanada's Keystone pipeline.

TransCanada said in a statement Thursday 795,000 litres of oil leaked from an underground section of its Keystone pipeline near Amherst, S.D., about 64 kilometres west from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal chairman David Flute said his community is concerned the leak, the largest by the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota to date, could pollute the area's aquifer and waterways.

"We are keeping a watchful eye and an open ear," said Flute.

"The concern is at a high level, but there is really nothing we can do."

Native American tribe bracing for Keystone pipeline leak impact
16 November 2017 - by Jorge Barrera, CBC News

Wovoka called them together, the great spirits of his people, of all those who had lived in this land before the white men came. Only a few answered his plea at first. They were hesitant. The last time any of them had been among the living, they had been dying, by disease, by gunshot, by alcoholism, their women raped and murdered, their children starved, all brought about by the European invaders, their children, and their children’s children.

But though only a few came at first, many more joined. As painful as it was to feel the scars upon the spirits of the living and upon the land, they came because the living needed them. The spirits of the great Chiefs, of the medicine men, of the healers, of hunters, of those who spoke to the eagle and wolf, of those who tended crops and flocks, all of them came into the circle.

Then they began to dance. The living saw them in dreams. The wisest of the living saw their spirits in the smoke. Some came to watch as they all danced around the wound in the land. It was not the first wound, only the latest of many, too many for the living to count, too many even for the spirits to remember across the years.

Some of the living joined the spirits in the Ghost Dance, which had come down from the beginning, and then been changed when Wovoka (when he was living) learned it in the spirit world, learned the dance to bring the dead to fight for the living, to heal the living, body and soul, to heal the injured and wounded land, to return peace, prosperity, and unity to the indigenous of the land and to expel the foreigners, those who herded the people into reservations like cattle into a pen.

The dance became faster, the cries louder and more shrill, there were flames and dust, powder and smoke, the spirits mingled with all of these and they mingled with the land, taking on the wounds, the pain, the filth spilled upon the Earth mother.

There was the long grey line, the one carrying the oil, the one spilling it upon the living land, killing the badger and sparrow, soiling the hawk and deer, the long grey line was falling.

The living who were present, the wisest among them who could still hear the call and see the circle stood in astonishment as the spirits danced and danced.

The long grey line was fading, as mist in the summer sunlight, it was fading and then so too the spirits. The long grey line was gone. The paved roads were gone. Even the air smelled different, fresher, cleaner.

A different time and place

Tschadam of the Lakota and his delegation were sitting at the meeting table discussing the offer of the visitors from the Lands of the East. They had heard their proposal to be allowed to “lease” some of the lands of his people, just a few thousand acres at first, to help the Lakota “develop” it using their more advanced technology.

He consulted with his advisors. For nearly seventy years, they had repeatedly refused even to meet with the Europeans, having heard the tales from across the sea of how they had enslaved the people of the great continent Africa, desecrated their land, raped their women, forced their children to forget their spirits and their language. But Taschadam had finally been convinced to hear out the Europeans. Perhaps the tales were not true, or if so in any sense, wildly exaggerated.

He listened to the advisors, representatives of the Six Nations that governed this land, the land from where the ice was in the north to the jungles in the deep south where one continent met with another.

“I say they are not to be trusted,” Chaz’n exclaimed.

“I agree with my brother,” Yoti added.

One by one, each of the members of the Six Nations told Tschadam the same words. They had spoken to those who had escaped European captivity and managed to gain the Lakota shores begging for asylum. The refugees spoke of the horrors of the Europeans, imploring them not to listen to their lies.

“Very well. We are in agreement. We shall not permit the Europeans to establish even a temporary outpost here among the Nations, and may the spirits of our ancestors and those who have seen what once happened but did not happen guard not only us, but our brothers who live in distant lands. May our spirits join their spirits in cleansing them.

ghost dance

Ghost dance artwork found at the Native Americans Online website

“But Tschadam, what of their weapons, their technology, it is so powerful compared to ours. What if they use force as they did among the Africans?”

“Our spirits have protected us all these centuries, since the very first of the white men tried to invade over five-hundred years ago. The spirits have protected us, preserved us and who we are, refused to allow the Europeans to gain a foothold here. They will not abandon us now, Nava.”

“As you say, Tschadam. As you say.”

Later, after the council had delivered their decision to the Europeans who were waiting on their big, metal boat, after the massive vessel had been compelled by a great wind from the spirits to depart the Lakota shoreline, Taschadam wrote in his journal the report he would present to the elders when he returned to his city far from here. He used the names of the places given them by the people and by the spirits, and their names for the hours, and days, and seasons, but he also used the counting of the Europeans as well as he signed the last page. Wednesday, 29 November 2017.

It was the day when his people had once again rejected the specter of tyranny, the tyranny of the white men. It was the day they re-affirmed their oath to safeguard the lands given them by the spirits. Tschadam looked out into the night and could almost see Vovoka among the stars in the Ghost Dance.

I wrote this for the Simply Marquessa friday fiction challenge. For #LyricalFictionFriday, the idea is to use a lyric or part of one as the inspiration for crafting a short story or other creative work. The lyric for November 30th is “You gotta get up off that grey line…I’ll guarantee they’ll fall in line…” Find out more by clicking HERE.

I focused on the phrase “grey line” but Googling it didn’t return much. I did find a group of products produced by Greyline Instruments such as ultrasonic level transmitters, flow meters and open channel flow meters. Sounds pretty dull, huh? But that led me to think of the recent Keystone Pipeline leak and the protests that have been held by the indigenous peoples opposing the pipeline.

Ultimately, the “grey line” came to represent the pipeline itself as well as the disastrous leak I chronicled above.

I included a couple of links at the beginning of my story tied to relevant news reports, and then I got creative. I started with Native American religions in general and then narrowed it down, first to Lakota religious practices, and then more specifically to the Ghost Dance. The Circle Dance comes down from prehistoric times, but the Ghost Dance is a more recent innovation introduced by Wovoka, also known as Jack Wilson.

Disclosure: I’m not a native American or indigenous person (though I’m sometimes taken for one due to certain aspects of my facial features), so I hope this tale isn’t taken as “appropriation” or as being disrespectful. I simply couldn’t write it without invoking the Ghost Dance practice.

You can find out more about the Ghost Dance at Legends of America and Native Americans Online.

14 thoughts on “Ghost Dance

    • Thank you, Michael. I wasn’t 100% accurate with everything, but I tried to capture the gist of the culture and religious practices. It was a story that would have been impossible for me to tell without involving indigenous people.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A thought-provoking slice of alternate history, James! I wonder how the narrative would be different if the factor of Europian diseases were introduced. My understanding is that smallpox and the like would have more than decimated the native population even if the colonists themselves were driven away.


    • Which is why I made sure there was limited contact between Europeans and the indigenous people, and that they had been meeting sporadically for the past 70 years (and not 500).

      I have written several “novels” here on this blog based on Andre Norton’s (Alice Norton’s) original 1958 novel “The Time Traders” and its sequels. In one series of stories, a massive time anomaly causes a large group of prehistoric sea predators from 100 million years ago to be moved forward in time to about 1100 AD. This prevents Europeans from traveling the Atlantic and when my time travelers arrive in the alternate timeline, they find a modern native American culture thriving, not primitive, but still adhering to the ways of their ancestors relative to the environment.


  2. I’m glad you wrote this, James. And it made me cry. (But I was prone to that already as the pipelines [and larger historical context] are something about which I’ve studied and written some {Keystone, DAPL, etc.}.) Dismissal of the native populations is extremely likely to be one of the downfalls (in apocalyptic terms) of the United States (water and land, at the very least, being more important for human life than money is). I’ll add that you might like a 1994 album by Robby Robertson — called “Music for the Native Americans” — and the Red Road Ensemble.


  3. Jesus wept. [See story of Lazarus.] And I hope for many, many, indigenous people to be risen peoples — even if (and quite often especially if it is so that) they were not Christian.

    Liked by 1 person

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