Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sundance & Oshkaabawas

Sundance is the Ceremony of Ceremonies. Sundance ceremonies are taking place in Indigenous communities all over Canada and the United States.  Among the Ceremony will be the participants and the Helpers.
Tree Of Life

I did have the opportunity to go to the Sundance in Sagkeeng First Nation for a very short visit. A friend comes every year from Ontario to support the Ceremony. It was nice to go see the Sundance in my Reserve. Later I went and camped out for the Sundance in Spruce Woods Manitoba. This Sundance Chiefs are Good people; David and Sherryl Blacksmith.

I went and visited at the Sundance this year as my youngest daughter is dancing. Many people from all over taking part in the Ceremony.  One of the things you get when you to go a Ceremony is you experience, hear and see Teachings.

As you know Teachings are life moments which either resonate with you or they are ignored. We get Teachings everywhere and from anyone. The old lady on the bus who gives her seat to a stranger - kindness. The police officer who helps an intoxicated man get home - compassion. The Teacher who spends time with your daughter/son to help read - giving/patience.  The Elder who shares the Oral history passed down from other Elders. The Helper who demonstrates devotion and earnest work while staying up all night in the pouring rain making sure the Sacred Fire remains burning.

One of the things that struck me at the Ceremony was the honesty. The honest language spoken to our people. The Teaching of forgiveness but also of reciprocity and of humbleness.  The Teaching of Pride as well. How the family who conduct the Sundance are so proud of their family. If you didn't know them you would judge (or even if you do know them) them as bragging. You would think they are excluding everyone. You are not part of the clique. Its not the case. If you were listening you would have seen the love they have of their family for sure. You would have also heard the love for the people. The Teachings of Gratitude for the many many helpers and Dancers who take part in Ceremony. You would have heard the struggle and the rewards of being a Helper - for the Creator. The many people who work behind the scenes and the people who work out front are all Helpers.

So we either take Teachings or we ignore them. That's key isn't it. Some of the Teachings we should have witnessed or experienced are tolerance, understanding, gratitude, appreciation, jealousy, envy, and insecurity.

I sat with different people and spoke with some old friends, new faces and some acquaintances. The conversations varied.  One friend was speaking about someone we both know and it was said "He is cursed you know? You can't treat people like that and expect to get away with it. He is an asshole." I nodded in agreement.  I believe I am both cursed and blessed. The other conversation focused on some of the Oshkaabawas(ag) i.e.Helpers. "That fellow is real lazy. Looks to be doing stuff but just being lazy". Another person I met was a professor from Carlton University of Ottawa. He teaches in the Religious Study department. I was trying get him to Pierce his skin and drag the Buffalo Skulls. I told him to get the "whole experience", he didn't become a professor by being naive.  So he didn't take part in the Piercing Ceremony or the dragging of the Skulls.  I'm kind of a jerk. It reminded me of when we Danced years ago. It was  our first year and the Oshkaabawas (helper) was getting Dancers up and taking them to be Cut  and hooked up to the Tree. This Elder was beside us and it was his first year dancing as well. I told the Oshkaabawas (we say Skha-be) "the guy is ready to pierce". The Helper came to him and I said to "they want you to go".  The Elder-first year dancer, looked, his eyes went big and he said "ma-ma-me me?"  It was funny. I am such a jerk.

That is the thing about the Teachings we either take them or ignore them. I walked around with many of the people who I once broke bread with and yet I felt like a stranger here. I felt pity for myself, even days after the Ceremony. "How come no one wants to sit and visit with me or invite me for tea?"  "How come I am a stranger among people I thought were friends? How come they won't talk to me? How come no one likes me?"

The Teachings were many. I laughed and stood in admiration of the Sundance Chief who spoke to the people. Can you imagine the pressure to be held accountable for the whole Ceremony?  What if something unforeseen or tragic were to happen?   I once saw a man break his leg while he was taking part in the Sundance years ago. What if someone had a heart-attack?  The amount of ownership and liability which falls on those who lead. "Heavy is the head that wears the Crown".

The Chief was blunt in his address to the people.  People need to hear it sometimes. They need to hear about effort and dedication. They need to hear it and to see it about how we need to support each other. The Teaching was evident with the coming together of the Ceremony. Can you imagine the work involved?

For example, one of the great things about the Ceremony was the toilets. Toilets?  Yes, the fact the Helpers raised funds to pay for the rental of portable toilets. The toilet company came around everyday and emptied the containers. Thank goodness.  There was the Old Man who drove around his pick up truck and collected garbage from each camp site. The Women and Men who went into the bush to cut fire wood and collect the branches. The amount of Help and Helpers is amazing.

And there are those of us. Those of us who sit and judge. Who sit and complain. Who want the Helpers to make the Lodge, cut the wood, make sure we have everything there for us. When we don't agree with what is said or something that took place, we jump at it. We are quick to fault. We are quick to put down. We are quick to ignore the beauty in what takes place. We sit and feel like outsiders in a Ceremony where everyone is welcome. We feel like its only for them. Some say "oh that Ceremony is not like the real Dakota way. Or its not Ojibwe. Or he is not Cree enough".  If you hear that, you know the Helpers and leaders hear it as well.

The thing is the Ceremony, the Helpers the Lodge leaders are there for you; for the people. They do have their families and everyone of us should be proud, should be happy for our family. That is what we see there.

To all the Helpers and Leaders out there, we say Thank you. We take the Teachings of appreciation and hope to remember it.

We take the Teaching of Gratitude and express it.

We take the Teaching of Envy and Jealousy and try to be aware of it.

We take the Teaching of ...

You know the toilet at the Sundance is emblematic of our people. In some way we expect others to take care of our shit. Take the participants of the Ceremony. There are many people carrying varied baggage.  I for one carry the sting of resentment. I saw this handsome Dancer giving of himself. But did I look at it like that? No. What I saw is a young man with a tattoo of a Manitoba Warriors symbol on his chest. A proud reminder of (like Izzy said to me years ago) MW for life. I didn't see a selfless man who was sacrificing himself for the people. I saw a past. A past that I know nothing of. I don't know him, but yet I carried the resentment for a man I don't know. Maybe he has a ailing mother or child. Maybe he has turned his life over to the Creator. Instead I judged him and many with contempt.

I judged many of wanting the "scars" to show off and not the scars of sacrifice for others. I judged many to want the look of Wab Kinew - with his beautiful skin and body with his scars pronounced as he is pictured on television or on various media pictures. But how in the heck do I know what is the hearts of people? See that is the thing, we hear the Teachings but we ignore them or discount them.

Like having a helper who is a politician or a Leader or a police officer. Some people will say "you can't be a police officer and be Indian at the same time, Never mind be a Traditional Teacher and a police officer at the same time".  It is the resentment, envy or jealous Teaching we carry. We fail to look at the Helper who is not only taking care of you but trying to educate others in making sure you are safe. One of the things this one Helper does is make sure there is "surgery type cleanliness" when working with the cutting the skin.  He and his friends make a handout for you to understand the process of blood transfer. Hoping others will benefit from the information and carry on the practice elsewhere. 

We need to listen to the Teachings - tolerance - kindness - caring - gift giving.  These Helpers gladly do it all. They don't have to. They can let you come and take part without providing you with the information.  They can let you come and be unprepared. 


I urge you to read the book by Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air. It is a story of fantastic feats and also of the selfishness of people.  The feat of completing a Sundance is a heck of journey. And like that of the people who can climb Mount Everest, they don't do it without support. The Helpers, the guides and the Leaders are vital to their success, along with their dedication. Like the journey in Thin Air, there are many obstacles. Some are even carried; emotionally and physically to  make the journey. 

The Ceremony of Sacrifice is exactly that. We are suppose to literally and figuratively give our lives to the Creator for the welfare of others. However we are just human beings filled with many failings. 
Whatever the reason we do Ceremony for, we should open our eyes, ears, mind and of course our hearts. If we can, we can carry the good Teachings and we can be aware of our faults and what we need to correct. 

It is the sacrifice of Helpers Leaders, and the many many supporters which allows Ceremony to continue. Ceremony is essential in our lives as Indigenous people. 







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