I can still smell the sage, the rhythmic sound of eagle bone flutes resonate throughout the arbor and campground, the drum still beating within my heart. The outline of many Ti Pi’s flickered on the trees as campfires keep food at the ready for runners working endlessly through the nights and days of this sacred time of prayer, sacrifice and renewal. The runner’s tasks were many, from fetching fresh sage or willow to things of a very sacred nature. Their greatest joy, to serve the painter and possibly hear some of the sacred teachings the painter and Sundancer discuss. Within the arbor is the most sacred place on Earth. All that is holy and sacred converged as our Sundancer’s endured both physical and mental challenges during this time of self-sacrifice and dedication, our prayers hanging above their heads. We all enrich ourselves with new hope and promise as we move past the realities of our lessons taught.
Our painter’s, knowledgeable about all that is sacred tells the Dancer stories handed down from the ancient ones and explains the meanings of their paint. For us family members who stand outside the arbor, it is our way of offering support to our Dancers and painters. We also give sacrifice with endurance and human suffering in the blistering heat or in the pouring rain. It is a good time to pray, while standing near the arbor. There was an old one who had just received major surgery who came with IV in hand. Our families tended to all his needs as well as other seniors in walkers or wheelchairs. All elders were our grand ma’s and grand pa’s. The children played in a world of total safety as we all watched out for the little ones.
Since one of my brothers is a Sundance Priest it was not time at all before I found myself with a checklist that took me on a journey that spanned several counties. In the process, I managed to experience my personal Sundance miracle.
I have an uncle who suffers a major lack of self-confidence. Been in the joint several times and the system had pushed him into a corner. He was street to the bone but was having a hard time showing face. Like a beat dog, he was taking hits from all sides and was giving up. He was having flashbacks from prison and I was the only one who could talk him down. His family or our relations were freaking out on him with his gangsta crappola. But it was mostly a facade since he was sad and defeated in many ways inside.
The clans were nominating pledges to be members of these respective clans. Then they called my uncle and came for him. Many sacred ceremonies took place; songs from ancient times were sung. The old people sung them along with the Dancers. As the Sundance progressed, I noticed something about my uncle. He was walking a bit taller and with more determination. Something I had not seen in him since his first go round in the slammer. The first time broke his spirit the second time in custody finished him off. He was sweating it up big time since it was well into the three digits but he was running with the young dogs. LOL, he would give me “the look” once in a while since I was not one for sympathy.
When it was all said and done and we were back at his home. He told me that for the first time in many years he felt like he had something to contribute. He was in the arbor when he was 12 and was taught by our elders, “the old ways”. He knew many old stories and Sundance tradition. Somehow, he became more than a runner fore the other painters were in awe of his presents and knowledge. He was amazed at all he knew and found a new confidence within himself.
He had forgotten who he truly was. I told him it did not matter what social position you have in the material world. That world was superficial and meaningless. What mattered was the fact he was an elder who possessed knowledge from the ancients ones. He had much to contribute to our nation and was valued beyond words. From the Sundance came new resolve for my uncle. And I pray this newfound momentum keeps him directed in a good way.
There are many things that happened at our Sundance. It was a step back in time when we were once free. For a moment in time we were just another Cheyenne Village along some nameless creek. I’m having a hard time getting back into my contemporary swing fore I found such peace in living traditionally. And what self-respecting Cheyenne would not take a few bites of fido from aunties blue enamel cooking pot eh? It’s not like we really wanted to have puppy in our food chain. But it was more a ritual in remembering a time when there was nothing and we were forced to eat our canine brothers.
My brother told me the many things I could speak about at Sundance as well as the things that were sacred to us and to be kept private, I thought long and hard about mentioning that I even went to Sundance since it really was a personal endeavor. There was much more to tell though. But after experiencing all that I did. After witnessing many wonderfully supernatural moments, after finding myself in spite of all the negative influences in the world around us. After finding peace of mind. I did not feel like telling a soul. No one would believe me anyway, I’d be labeled as a witch or some consort of Satan. Or most likely placed in a mental institution and fed tons of Lithium, Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro…
On the final day of ceremonies I could not help but get a pit in my belly as I came to realize that soon all the ti pis would be gone. The arbor would be down and all the shades would be removed from around our ceremony grounds. I would no longer hear my nephews and nieces as they called for uncle as we walked to and from the arbor. Once I left the confines of my reservation and the Sundance grounds. The pale of reality would soon try to erase from memory this sacred time with family.
It was wonderful to cerebrate in this ancient traditional way. We’ve beaten the odds of survival, our arbor still goes up every year, and we still have our arrows. My people know this is the time of great change and we celebrate it’s coming in spite of knowing the suffering that lay in store for humanity. For us, it’s not the end of the world. It’s a new beginning that will have many sacrifices, just like our Sundance.
Happy New Year!
Creativity is the byproduct of a fertile mind