American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Indian Shaker Movement

The Indian Shaker movement is a Native American religion that originated in northwestern North America and the first pan-Indian religious movement to establish itself legally under state law. It is not related to non-Indian eastern Shakerism. The Indian Shaker Church is a fusion of indigenous spiritual practices, Catholicism, and Protestantism that originated among the Salish people of Washington State during the early 1880s. It continues to have an active membership among Native peoples in the western United States and Canada.

The movement was founded by a Squaxin tribal member, John Slocum in 1882, who, at forty years of age, came back to life after a logging accident with a revelation that Native peoples could achieve salvation by turning away from drinking, gambling, and smoking and by rejecting the minis-trations of shamans and traditional healers. Slocum, a charismatic man who was baptized Catholic, claimed that God would give his followers greater medicine than was held by the shamans.

The name of the movement originated with Slocum's wife, Mary. A year after Slocum revealed his vision, he suddenly fell very ill. Mary, who shared a strong faith in Slocum's vision, went to the river to pray and while praying was overcome by an uncontrollable trembling. She entered the house and continued to shake while she prayed over her husband's head. John Slocum began to recover, and Mary's shaking was deemed the medicine God had promised. Thus Mary is known as the bearer of "the shake," which is believed to bring healing to those spiritually or physically ill.

People from all over the Puget Sound region came to hear the prophet's message, and many experienced shaking similar to Mary's. Early converts included Luis Yowaluck (Mud Bay Louis) and his brother, Mud Bay Sam. Missionaries and Indian Agents made attempts to squelch the movement, but the Shakers defied or avoided restrictions as the movement gained momentum, spreading outward from the Skokomish Reservation, east to Idaho, south to California, and north to British Columbia.

In 1892, the Shakers legally constituted themselves as a church to protect their religious freedom, on the advice of lawyer James Wickersham. John Slocum became a church elder, and Mud Bay Louis became leader (Amoss, 1990, 633). In 1897, Slocum died, as did Mud Bay Louis in 1905. In 1910, the church was incorporated under Washington State law. The structure of the Shaker Church involved a bishop and a board of elders who elected the bishop every four years. Mud Bay Sam was elected the first bishop.

A disagreement over the role of the Bible created a split in the Shaker movement. Some members wanted to read from the Bible during services, while others believed that Shakers had no need for a written text and that their inspiration came from "the Spirit" (Amoss, 1990, 634). Eventually, a formal separation occurred. The pro- Bible group became known as the Indian Full Gospel Church and the more conservative Shakers retained the title of the Indian Shaker Church.

General Shaker beliefs involve an all-powerful God, Jesus, and the Spirit of God. It is believed that the Spirit provides the power to heal and to exorcise evil. The Spirit also brings the "shake." The faithful believe that sin interferes with the ability to receive the power of the spirit and that sickness can be caused by sin, sorrow, or supernatural factors. Some elements of Guardian Spirit beliefs stem from the Puget Sound traditions (Amoss, 1990, 636).

Formal Shaker rituals include Sunday meetings, "shakes," funerals, weddings, and dedications, and they are often held in a modest and extremely clean church. Candles and handbells used in healing ceremonies and prayer are kept on the prayer tables. Charity is a basic element in Shaker practice, and members readily minister to the sick whenever asked. The church is respected outside the membership for its success in teaching against the use of alcohol.

Aliki Marinakis


Further Reading
Amoss, Pamela T. 1990. "The Indian Shaker Church." In Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Edited by Wayne Suttles, 633–639. General editor, William C. Sturtevant. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.; Castile, George P. 1982. "The Half-Catholic Movement: Edwin and Myron Eells and the Rise of the Indian Shaker Church." Pacific Northwest Quarterly 73: 165–174. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest; Harmon, Ray. 1971. "The Indian Shaker Church, the Dalles." Oregon Historical Quarterly 72: 148–158. Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society.; Ruby, Robert H., and John A. Brown. 1996. John Slocum and the Indian Shaker Church. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press.
 

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