Blackfoot Sun Dance 3

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					TIME OF YEAR: The beginning of summer – Solstice

CULTURE: Indigenous North Americans – The Blackfoot (The Blackfoot Indians of the
United States and Canada were divided into three main groups: the Northern Blackfoot
or Siksika, the Kainah or Blood, and the Piegan. The three as a whole are also referred
to as the Siksika, a term which probably derived from “moccasins blackened with ashes
from prairie fires”.)

LOCATION: Northern Montana, U.S.A. and Southern Canada

NAME: Sun Dance

DESCRIPTION: Each year at the beginning of summer, separate wintering Blackfoot
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. 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.

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.

ORIGIN: The ritual began in the early 19th century. By the middle of the 19th century, the
Sun Dance had become an important ceremony performed once each summer. The Sun
Dance among the Blackfoot was generally similar to the ceremony that was performed in
other Plains societies.

ORIGINAL ACTIVITES: The Blackfoot Sun Dance included the following: (1) moving
the camp on four successive days; (2) on the fifth day, building the medicine lodge,
transferring bundles to the medicine woman, and the offering of gifts by children and
adults in ill health; (3) on the sixth day, dancing toward the sun, blowing eagle-bone
whistles, and self-torture; and (4) on the remaining four days, performing various
ceremonies of the men's societies.

TODAY’S ACTIVITIES: 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.

RECIPE: North American Indian Fry Bread
2 Quarts of Canola oil
3 Cups sifted flour
1 TBS baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup warm water

Heat oil in a 5-Quart Pot. (A deep-fat fryer works best.) Combine flour, baking powder
and salt in large mixing bowl. Add warm water in small amounts and knead dough until
soft, not sticky. Cover bowl and let stand for 15 minutes to rise.

Make egg size balls and shape by flattening. In the pot or fryer, fry in oil until bubbles
appear on dough. Turn over and fry on other side until golden.

Eat with plenty of fresh butter and enjoy! Delicious!


      Attend a Blackfoot or North American Indian Powwow


Blackfoot Sun Dance Camp

Chief of Blackfoot 1865-1890 Chief Crowfoot’s regalia

USEFUL LINKS: Short History of the Blackfoot Nation

Official Site of the Blackfoot Nation

AUDIO CLIP: 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

The Ways of My Grandmothers
by Beverly Hungry Wolf

Blackfoot Lodge Tales: The Story of a Prairie People
by George Bird Grinnell, and Thedis Berthelson Crowe

By Brith Sutherland

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