The Blackfoot_ whose name means “moccasins blacked from prairie by sofiaie


									                The Sacred Vibrations of the
                    Solstice Sun Dance

The Blackfoot tribe or Siksika of long ago, whose name means moccasins blackened by
prairie fire ash, were nomads who traveled and lived primarily along the northern border
of what is now the U.S. state of Montana, and the southern border of Alberta, Canada.
They often wintered along the banks of the Flathead River, west of the Rocky Mountains
and summered east of those mountains on the Great Plains, living in circles of large
shelters called tipis. The tall coned tipis allowed diffused light to fill the interior
providing a space for the spirit to soar and the circular floor plan replicated the cycles of
nature: the sky, earth, seasons and life itself. The center of the tipi circle was often the
site of hunting ceremonies.

Mainly known for their reputation as fierce warriors, the Blackfoot possessed great skill
in hunting the enormous “elk-horse” or buffalo. During the summer hunt, warriors
"disguised" themselves in animal hides and furs, so the buffalo could not detect their
human scent. They often drove the buffalo into small, enclosed areas where they would
be easier to kill. Sometimes they used “buffalo jumps” where the buffalo would be driven
off cliffs high enough to kill them.

Besides supplying the Blackfoot with an abundance of meat, the buffalo also provided
clothing, shelter, tools and weapons. After the hunt, the women of the tribe would dry
and preserve the meat; often making pemmican (a combination of dried meat, fat and
berries). They also would perform the important, time-consuming task of tanning the
skins for making clothing, moccasins, blankets, tipis, shields and drums, and shape the
bones to make tools, and weapons.

Each Blackfoot tribe was divided into hunting bands led by one or more chiefs and
councilors. Band membership was very informal. Success in war and ceremonial
experience were the qualifications for head office, and as long as the chief helped benefit
his members, they would stay with him. But if his generosity slackened, they were free
to leave. The bands wintered separately in river valleys and united each summer to
observe the Sun Dance.

Ceremonies and spiritual beliefs were, and are, important parts of the Blackfoot culture,
and their religious lives centered upon medicine bundles which were individually
owned and which originated from a supernatural experience.

One of the most important bundles to the Blackfoot tribe was the natoas or Sun Dance
bundle. The natoas is the Chief Bundle of all the medicines or any sacred objects among
the Native Nations. All societies were built around it. It showed the regeneration
between life and death. It showed there was no true end to life, but rather, a cycle of
symbolic true deaths and rebirths and that all of nature is intertwined and dependent on
one another. This gives equal ground to all things on Earth.

Each year at the beginning of summer, the separate wintering bands would gather to
observe the principal religious ceremony of the Sun Dance. The buffalo was considered
the major symbol of the Sun Dance. The location of the buffalo herds decided the time
and locality of the ceremony.

With The Holy Man of the tribe in charge of the ceremony and as the lodge maker, the
Sun Dance lodge was built. He would instruct participants in building a tipi and give
direction to the other tribesmen who would gather the items needed for its construction.
Eminent tribal members were chosen to look for a tree with a fork in the top to be used as
the first and center pole (sun pole) of the lodge. The natoas was then placed on the fork
of the sun pole. It was here that the people gathered to observe men striving to obtain
supernatural skills, personal power and become more meaningful members of their
society through sacrifice. The sacrifice required the participants to dance for three to four
days while abstaining from food and drink. As terrifying as it may sound, skewers, (thin
sticks) piercing the skin and muscles of the men, were used as part of the ritual. Ropes
were tied from the skewers to the sun pole. They danced in the sacred circle around the
pole, trying to break away from the pole to end the dance. This form of torture
represented “death”; the person was then symbolically resurrected. The Sun Dancer was
reborn, mentally, physically and spiritually along with the renewal of the buffalo and the
entire universe.

The Sun Dance was an important part in reconciliation for killing the buffalo, which
violates the kinship between animal and man. They believed the buffalo gave themselves
to them for food, and out of respect and reverence, they, in return, would offer a part of
them selves to nature. The Sun Dance symbolized a resolution with the conflict between
being a people who view the buffalo as wise and powerful, even closer to the Creator
than humans, but having to kill and eat them to survive. Without the buffalo there would
be death, and the Blackfoot saw that the buffalo not only provided them with quality of
life, but kept their souls alive.

The Creation was expressed in the Sun Dance by using symbolic objects representing the
attributes of various animal kin. Animals were thought of as wise and powerful, serving
as connections between humans and supernatural forces. With the life-sustaining buffalo
as the central figure, its tongue, considered the most sacred part, was consumed as a
sacramental food during the ceremony and its skull used to express the theme of rebirth
as bone was presumed to be where the soul resided. The eagle was chief of all creatures
in the air. The eagle, with soaring flight, was the closest creature to the Sun and therefore
the messenger between man and the Great Spirit, Once the ceremony concluded, the
Sun Dancers were set free, the lodge then abandoned and all animal objects left inside to
return to the earth symbolizing the renewal of the living, and emphasizing human
cooperation to bring about universal regeneration.

Today, the Sun Dance usually takes place around the Summer Solstice (June 21st) and is
still the most sacred ceremony of the Blackfoot and many other Great Plains Nations.
The original ritual of the Sun Dance was outlawed in 1904. Among most tribes, including
the Blackfoot, benign forms of the ceremony continue in the form of dance, celebration,
family reunion and a festival (powwow) but there are a few tribes who still attempt to
revive the Sun Dance in its original form and meaning.
Submitted by Brith Sutherland (Montana)

(An Ancient Blackfoot Tale)
"In the beginning all the world was water. One day the Old Man, also called Napi, was
curious to find out what might be beneath the water. He sent animals to dive beneath the
surface. First duck, then otter, then badger dived in vain.

The Old Man sent muskrat diving to the depths. After a long time muskrat rode to the
surface holding between his paws a little ball of mud and blew upon it.

The mud began to swell, growing larger and larger until it became the whole earth.
The Old Man then made the people." (Ancient Blackfoot Tale)

Audio Samples of the Blackfoot Language link:

A link to the Blackfoot language

Recommended Reading for Anyone!:
Ni-Kso-Ko-Wa” Blackfoot Spirituality, Traditions, Values and Beliefs by Long
Standing Bear Chief

The Story of the Blackfoot People
Nitsitapiisinni by The Blackfoot Gallery Committee

Image Links:

A Blackfoot Sun Dance Camp

The costume of Chief Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot from 1865 – 1890
 Turtle Island Storyteller and songwriter (who lives here in the beautiful Flathead Valley
in Montana)

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