The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Sundance Ceremony To Be Openly Celebrated in 2014

23 Comments

This post seems to have caused some concern about the 2014 Sundance Ceremony being televised.  Joe Morales Sundance Chief sent the following message:

Hello, this is Joe Morales Sundance Chief and Grand Governing Council member of the American Indian Movement. “Openly” means without fear or shame. 2014 Sundance or any other AIM Sundance will not be televised nor will there be any filming or picture allowed during Ceremony. Hope this clarifies things.

In The First Perspective, Terry Nelson writes about the conflicting opinions in the Native American community about televising the Sundance ceremony.  His piece documents the history of the ceremony’s secrecy and concludes, ” We owe it to the youth to throw off the fear, to openly celebrate what has been retained by the sacrifices of many generations who held on to the songs, to the ceremonies and we in our turn need to keep those gifts for future generations. “

Recently, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (Indigenous people’s national television in Canada) did a story on the Sundance and the airing of the ceremony caused not only some controversy but death threats against David Blacksmith the main person at the Sundance in Manitoba who allowed a television crew into the area. David Blacksmith is Cree, a man who has been sober for decades, a man who has worked with the spiritual side of our people since he was in his early twenties. Blacksmith attended the recent AIM Sundance in Pipestone Minnesota. Also in attendance at the AIM Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota was Leonard Crowdog.
Leonard Crowdog is the son of Henry Crowdog, a Dakota Medicine man that AIM went to in 1970s for spiritual understanding. Leonard is a well known Dakota Medicine Man who carried on the work of his father after Henry died. Today, Leonard has the largest Sundance in South Dakota with 400 to 500 Sundancers and up to 7,000 people who attend Crowdog’s Sundance. People from all over the world come to his Sundance. Some Dakota have stated that they believe the Ojibway had no right to use the Sundance ceremony in Pipestone Minnesota but Leonard’s answer was simple and clear, “Ask the Tree if it is Dakota”.
Indigenous people suffered forced conversion to Christianity. Called Heathens, Pagans, and Devil Worshippers, residential schools in Canada and boarding schools in United States sprang up in the early 1900s and for decades forcefully took children away from their homes to indoctrinate them into Christian belief. In the 1800s, before the schools, indigenous people were being killed by the U.S. Army. The killing of over 300 Dakota men, women and children by the U.S. Calvary in December, 1890 was a prime example of how the white people feared native religious beliefs. The Ghost Dance swept across tribes in the United States before theWounded Knee massacre. Wovoka, a Paiute, had a vision (more Christian than Indigenous) wherein Jesus would come and punish the whites in another great flood if “All Indians must dance, keep on dancing.” Red Cloud, “There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see him…The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had made. The White men were frightened and called for soldiers.”
Clyde Belcourt, National Leader of American Indian Movement has stated many times; “God did not come to North America in 1492 on a boat, God was always here, what came on that boat in 1492 was the devil.” In reading the book Black Elk Speaks, Clyde Belcourt and other AIM leaders saw a vision of how the Sundance (different than the Ghost Dance) could help the movement. They went to the reservations in South Dakota hoping to find the Sundance that Black Elk spoke of, instead they found a Catholic Priest in charge of the Dakota Sundance. Clydespeaks of the time when he and Lehman Brightman confronted the priest and with each on one side of the priest, they “tiptoed” the priest out of the Sundance to the protests of the Dakota audience. The next year, 38 AIM leaders went to Crowdogs to hold a traditional Sundance, regardless of the laws at that time that prohibited holding the Sundance ceremony without the protection of the Catholic church. Today, thousands of Sundances occur all over North America, some estimating perhaps up to 5,000 Sundances each year.
The Cult of Secrecy
Forty years ago, there were youth and elder gatherings, one of the biggest ones was the Ecumenical Conference at Morley, Alberta. Two Elders, Ernest Tootoosis and Eddie Benton Banai, were native spiritual leaders who were open about ceremonies. Tootoosis appeared on CBC Television on the program Man Alive with host Roy Bonisteel (March 3 1975) doing a pipe ceremony on Television. He was condemned amongst the indigenous people for breaking a taboo. Eddie Benton wrote the Mishomis Book, openly trying to reach the youth about Mediwiwin, the Anishinabe spiritual beliefs. Benton was also condemned for publishing his book but as an AIM leader he refused to quit and today heads one of the largest native spiritual movements in North America, the Three Fires Society. Eddie Benton is alive but Ernest Tootoosis died in an accident in the eighties.
Secrecy, the hiding of indigenous religious ceremonies was a product of years of persecution of native spirituality. Christianity was and is the forced indoctrination of indigenous people by some in the white race that believed that they and only they were the chosen people, that God appeared to them and only them. Some churches teach their followers that it is their God given mandate to force others to convert to white belief in Jesus Christ. The highest suicide rates in the world are amongst isolated northern reservations in Canada. David Blacksmith spoke at the Pipestone Sundance of one reservation in northern Manitoba where 27 youth suicides had occurred in the first seven months of 2013 alone. The community is heavily Christianized.Roseau River, my home community is an exception amongst First Natioins in Manitoba, perhaps less than 30 tribal members in Roseau River are practising Christians. Over 95% of the funerals in Roseau River are Mediwiwin, no white priest is needed to conduct funerals, no white priest to lead the deceased to the spirit world. There have been no suicides amongst the youth in Roseau River for the last twenty years.
It was the words of Black Elk that reached Clyde Belcourt as he was a young man in solitary. In Stillwater Prison, Minnesota, future AIM leaders read in books the words of people who struggled to save the voice of the indigenous people, to tell our side of history. Black Elk was a thirteen year old Oglala Dakota who witnessed the Battle of the Little Big Horn and fifteen years later he saw the bodies at the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890. Black Elk, “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.” Forty years after Black Elk wrote those words in his 1932 book Black Elk Speaks, thirty-eight AIM leaders defying American laws that outlawed the Sundance and other native spiritual ceremonies, Sundanced at Crowdog’s. Today, thousands and thousands of Sundances occur every summer in many parts of North America, even reaching into central America.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Elk_Speaks
We owe it to the youth to throw off the fear, to openly celebrate what has been retained by the sacrifices of many generations who held on to the songs, to the ceremonies and we in our turn need to keep those gifts for future generations. Black Elk wrote a book. He told the story of his people. Eddie Benton did the same. At the same time as we held the Sundance this year in Pipestone Minnesota, in Roseau River, my brother Charles and other Mediwiwin leaders like Peter Atkinson held Mediwiwin ceremonies. hundred of people attended, some travelling a thousand miles to attend the Mediwiwin ceremonies. They had 50 people this year who gave their tobacco asking to become new Mediwiwin. None of our spiritual leaders speak against Christianity, we simply state that God has always been here in North America, God did not forget us. David Blacksmith made a decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance, that was his and his people’s decision. AIM supports the right of David Blacksmith to reach out to the youth and his decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance. My own answer is simple, if some people don’t agree with David Blacksmith, they don’t have to attend his Sundance but we as AIM people should never condemn those working to reach out to our young people.
Keith “Swiftbird” Lussier, Chairman of the American Indian Movement spent all week at the Pipestone Sundance working with youth and adults who wanted to make a pipe. Keith is a master carver of pipes. He has spent forty years learning and teaching about making pipes. He has quarried the stone to make pipestone. Keith spent thirty-five years of service in native education, including March 21st, 2005. On that day, Jeff Weisse came into the Red Lake Schooland killed nine students. Keith blocked a door as Weisse tried to get at students Keith was protecting. A young student named Chase Lussier threw himself over a fellow student and took a bullet that killed him. Sixteen year old Chase Lussier gave his life for a fellow student. Chase did not have a Christian funeral. The priest was tired out by other funerals and could not attend the funeral of Chase Lussier. In the absence of the priest that the family was waiting for, the priest who never arrived, American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks and I conducted a little of the Ojibway funeral ceremonies as we could for Chase. Later, Mediwiwin people from Roseau River went to Red Lake to do a naming ceremony for Chase giving him an Ojibway name, Misko-Geesis. When the time came for heros, the youth of Red Lake were not wanting, the spirit of the warrior still exists in the youth of Red Lake.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Weise
Keith Lussier has committed that at Pipestone Minnesota, July 2014 Sundance, he is going to organize stone carvers to help any indigenous person who wants a pipe, that he will spend the time to help them carve a pipe. To learn this, they must present tobacco and be willing to hear from the elders on the meaning and teachings of the sacred pipe.
We will take the next eleven months to prepare for the Sundance in Pipestone Minnesota 2014. Pipestone is a sacred place where tribes held a oath to peace. There was treaty between all tribes that no one could be hurt there as they all came to quarry pipestone. The sacred pipe was given to all tribes to communicate with the Creator. The Sundance Chief for 2013 was Joe Morales. He did a great job. If anyone wants to [attend] Sundance in July 2014, contact Joe Morales atBluesman7163@gmail.com . If you want to Sundance at Pipestone in July 2014, there is only one Sundance Chief, that will be Joe Morales. For pipe making contact Keith Lussier at his wife’s email pollylussier@gmail.com , and for all other general inquiries contact “aimggc”aimggc@att.net , or contact Clyde at clyde.hote@yahoo.com . Leonard Crowdog and David Blacksmith have committed to help organize the AIM Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota July 2014. We at AIM Manitoba also make our commitment to organize and financially support the Sundance at Pipestone 2014. We owe that to our youth who are seeking what was left behind for them. We as the living generation owe our ancestors who suffered for us, who remembered us, that we would be here wanting the songs and ceremonies. Now it is our turn to remember those who will want those gifts in the future.
Terrance Nelson
Vice-Chair AIM
For Chase Lussier, who didn’t have a Priest at his Funeral and the 27 youth who committed suicide because we didn’t do enough to reach them.
Next year’s Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota
American Indian Movement Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota is set for early July 2014. CampDay Thursday July 3rd, Tree Day July 9, 2014, Sundance ends Sunday July 13, Camp takedown on Monday July 14.
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Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

23 thoughts on “Sundance Ceremony To Be Openly Celebrated in 2014

  1. “Writing the Circle” KMW – Kihew Watiston

  2. what does this mean by ‘Openly Celebrated”…I’d like a clarification on it..thanks.

    • The article notes that “Secrecy, the hiding of indigenous religious ceremonies was a product of years of persecution of native spirituality. Christianity was and is the forced indoctrination of indigenous people by some in the white race that believed that they and only they were the chosen people, that God appeared to them and only them.”

      It concludes: “We owe it to the youth to throw off the fear, to openly celebrate what has been retained by the sacrifices of many generations who held on to the songs, to the ceremonies and we in our turn need to keep those gifts for future generations. Black Elk wrote a book. He told the story of his people. Eddie Benton did the same. At the same time as we held the Sundance this year in Pipestone Minnesota, in Roseau River, my brother Charles and other Mediwiwin leaders like Peter Atkinson held Mediwiwin ceremonies. hundred of people attended, some travelling a thousand miles to attend the Mediwiwin ceremonies. They had 50 people this year who gave their tobacco asking to become new Mediwiwin. None of our spiritual leaders speak against Christianity, we simply state that God has always been here in North America, God did not forget us. David Blacksmith made a decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance, that was his and his people’s decision. AIM supports the right of David Blacksmith to reach out to the youth and his decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance. My own answer is simple, if some people don’t agree with David Blacksmith, they don’t have to attend his Sundance but we as AIM people should never condemn those working to reach out to our young people.”

  3. @ Daniela I dont agree…and staying away IS NOT THE ANSWER! i will bring this issues up with the elders..I’m not buying your excusses….

    • The opinions in the article are not mine. I do, however, sympathize with the main point of the article which to me is the need to reconnect young people to their history and culture.

      “The highest suicide rates in the world are amongst isolated northern reservations in Canada. David Blacksmith spoke at the Pipestone Sundance of one reservation in northern Manitoba where 27 youth suicides had occurred in the first seven months of 2013 alone. The community is heavily Christianized.Roseau River, my home community is an exception amongst First Natioins in Manitoba, perhaps less than 30 tribal members in Roseau River are practising Christians. Over 95% of the funerals in Roseau River are Mediwiwin, no white priest is needed to conduct funerals, no white priest to lead the deceased to the spirit world. There have been no suicides amongst the youth in Roseau River for the last twenty years.”

      I agree with you that the “if you don’t like it just don’t come attitude” is not the answer. I don’t know much about the ceremony, but, it appears to me, even from your comment, that this is a decision made by a committee with input from members of the community. Am I wrong? Joe Morales will be the Sundance Chief for the July 2014 Sundance in Pipestone. You can contact him at atBluesman7163@gmail.com to see if the 2014 ceremony will be televised. I don’t think it states that one way or the other in the article.

  4. Hello, this is Joe Morales Sundance Chief and Grand Governing Council member of the American Indian Movement. “Openly” means without fear or shame. 2014 Sundance or any other AIM Sundance will not be televised nor will there be any filming or picture allowed during Ceremony. Hope this clarifies things.

    • Thank you so much for responding. I posted the article because it was such an interesting perspective. I in no way wanted to create any controversy. If you prefer I remove the post I will do so.

  5. It wont be long till the whites have a Sundance as the idiot in Az. had a sweat.

  6. I am a Sundancer, I also lost my son from suicide. He was 21 and we as family’s need to help are youth from this terrible depression that are coming over are children. We all need to come together again with are chunupa and to pray, dance and sacrifice so are Children may live and the sacred Eagle will come and take are prayer and tears to creator. And we must keep are ancestors prays going.

  7. I have been walking the red road since 1997 and have Sundanced , I am very glad you shared this, thank you

    • I am so honored by the response to this article. This post has been viewed by over a thousand people. It has had the most emotional impact of anything I’ve posted. If there are any other articles or posts that people would like to share, please forward a link and I’ll be happy to post it.

  8. Daniela, I am a pipe carrier allied with the Lakota nation and a fourth-year Sun Dance pledge. I am also white. I have great respect for the teachers and traditions of the indigenous peoples of this land and I also thank you for posting this (Carl who posted above is a great elder in my circle). My advice to anyone interested in these ways would be to look carefully for a competent teacher; one that will teach the lifetime commitment that carrying a pipe is and what that means – as well as how to take care of the pipe, which is really a traveling portable alter. The pipe has also been described as more of a Being than a thing. It is certainly nothing to be taken lightly, shown off, abused with drugs or otherwise or bragged about. In my opinion a pipe carrier should show respect to the culture by learning the language, or a least to pray in the language, especially if one is a Sun Dancer (see Pete Catches bio). As for Sun Dancing, I agree that TV cameras should be disallowed, but that many, many more young indigenous people would be great to see at inipis and Sun Dances. I believe it would be great for the healing of their respective Nations. I dance with several AIM folks at our dance in Oregon and I believe they would share these views. – Thank you and bless you.

    • Eric, thank you for the information you provided about the sanctity of the pipe and for your advice to anyone interested in learning about the ways of the Lakota Nation. I believe we would all be better off if we would take the time to learn more about the cultures and religions of indigenous peoples who respect the earth and have reverence for all living things because they understand we are all connected. I looked up Pete Catches on the internet and found a beautiful video of him telling the story about how the buffalo and Lakota peoples are connected. I’ll make sure to post it.

  9. Daniela, Thank you for the article. Your Spirit and Commitment shines through!
    Sincerely, Anne Taylor

  10. Sge ! To have to resort to reaching our children through the televising of any ceremony means that we the people have failed our traditions. Tradition mandates that we spend time with our children so that we the olders and yes the Elders too can reach out through oral traditions to nurture our young people. But this predominately whit culture that we live in requires too much of our time. It is sad that we no longer have the respect to Learn ,Do ,and Teach in the old ways. In my ways we are all related and sadly enough we are all responsible. My challenge is for every one to stop the blame game and to start honoring our traditions . In todays society especially in the rat races we call the city , time is difficult to come by Sundance is the hardest thing any person can do yet we still do this ceremony and we not on live but we live better each year for having done this. My name is Jimmy Cupples and can be reached at jcupples7@hotmail.com If you desire to throw sticks and stones do not bother you can not do any thing to me that I have not already done. If you desire to restore the ways of our people then do something.

  11. Pingback: Vertical Gardening Pipestone Pipestone Systems Pipestone | Home Best Garden Trellis

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