I am writing this in the spirit of sharing and to request support for the Sundance held at the Rosebud Reservation, a place where I met with my ancestors.
When I was asked to write about the personal experience I had at the Black Pipe Grounds, I was happy to do it, but I found myself facing a dilemma. My heart became torn by the idea of writing about, and sharing this very private, sacred time. The difficulty for me was that it touches on the complex and controversial issues we Native people have to live with today. I’m referring to the situation of pan-Indian shamanism, plastic medicine people, romantic stereotypes and new age imitation. So, I questioned myself about what to share within the protocol of ceremonies and within my role of perpetuating this type of situation.
A couple of quotes came to me during the time I was thinking about what to write;
– “A proselytizing (converting) religion that seeks its survival via membership, by bringing in people that never had any connection through that religion, in order for that religion to survive, it must proselytize and it must attract members to it. Or one of the ways of attracting membership is with a great deal of pageantry, a great deal of extended symbol, a great deal of promise that symbols will reveal inner truth. This does not happen in tribal religions”.
-“The elders are very private about our religion and our spirituality. And it’s my sense that those that know, don’t say, and those that say, don’t know. Some of the new age people that come in and have appropriated tribal spirituality have no clue, they’re clueless about what this means to tribal elders.”
Once I read the quotes my heart and mind came together. My intentions were clear. I am not out to convert or seek membership, but to live in the true sense of our spiritual way, to share my story and speak out for the needs of a community appealing to your supporting heart.
The Sundance was held in June, 2000 at the Danger Horse Memorial site on the Rosebud Reservation near Belvidere, South Dakota.
I am a fifty-one year old woman of Dakota-Ojibway and Cree ancestry. I was born in Winnipeg and presently live in the Montreal area. This summer was my first Sundance – a four year commitment. I’m told jokingly, by my American Sundance brothers and sisters, that the connection to my ancestry in Manitoba is there, but it doesn’t make me a pure blood.
This opportunity of attending the Sundance ceremony came to me during a time in my life when I had a lot of questions about being a Native woman today, an urbanized Native woman walking the Traditional path.
I felt disconnected from the meaning of tradition and where this perspective was going to lead me in the urban area. I concluded that in order to move forward I had to flesh out some kind of picture of what it means to be an urbanized traditional Native woman that would be acceptable to me.
After some thought I remembered certain times in my life, throughout my travels, when I had visited various Native Elders who had an impact on me and moved me in such a way as to make me think of who I was and where I was going in my life.
I recalled certain questions that had an impact on me. Who am I? Of course, in order to answer that I have to ask, where have I come from? Once I know where I come from, I have to know, where am I going? Once I know where I am going, I need to know what is my responsibility? I remembered when I heard this, I became frustrated as the questions ended with, “We ask ourselves these questions and every time we think we know the answer to one, it changes all the others.” I knew this was what I needed to think about in order to create a meaningful picture of an urbanized traditional Native woman.
I am a 51 year old woman whose life journey had to begin by piecing myself together. I was a child whose life experiences within my own family of origin included sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and family violence. This started when I was three years of age and lasted until I was seven years old. During this time my mother suffered tuberculosis and was in and out of the hospital. My father was not around. By the age of eight my mother was killed in a car accident. My sense of self was filled with a sense of guilt and shame. My mother’s death left me feeling totally alone in this world.
As a child I remember going to school and seeing eyes of disbelief, shaking heads of apathy, racist words, terms such as poor, dirty, wild Indian, because of my many differences that were not tolerated by mainstream society.
I went to school with my favorite food – bannock smothered in bacon grease of course, appalling to those who didn’t understand. My brothers and I played games of hunting or knife throwing, or pretending to shoot a gun to improve our aim. I preferred to wear my older brother’s worn out pants instead of dresses. In grade three I was called a ‘child of the devil’ by my teacher because I wrote with my left hand.
Of course, being a teenager there were new and bigger racist remarks such as, squaw and wagon burner. Being coaxed along to a party just to see what would happen when an Indian gets drunk was another new aspect of teenage life.
I’m on a roll, let’s not forget the multi-generational abuse issues that occurred during my life time such as, family break up, poverty, residential school, loss of language, community re-location, and lack of education – just to name a few of the social issues we Native people have been dealing with in mainstream society.
I had grown up during a time when it was safer to hide my Native identity, in a sense, going underground with who I was. I felt many positive and negative things having to grow up this way and yet separating myself from who I was even more. The positive was the safety of being freer to live without the racism touching you as much. The negative was that I lived my life with a feeling that a piece of me was missing, which is so disorienting to everything one does. My identity is the pivotal point of who I am. So, who was I?
My life, I believe is not unlike any other Native person my age and I’m sure the story is very similar to that of many others. I believe my generation had lived the Native way – survival – and we learnt to live within the marginalization that is part of what being Native is today. Living within our environment, however, is very costly to the next generation and I believe there is no need for any nation to live this way.
Today, I thank the Creator as I remember both the good and bad memories of my childhood. My early twenties I recall feeling I couldn’t remember anything and I believed that I didn’t have any childhood memories. It was like my life started at the age of twenty, only after I had given birth to my daughter.
The mind is a powerful tool as it helps you forget a lot that happens, especially when things are painful. The mind helps you to move on with life, unfortunately and eventually with one feeling like there are pieces missing within oneself. Yet, you can’t figure out why the memory still haunts you as you believe the past is over it can’t hurt you today. Somehow your ‘mind’ knows when you are strong enough to start grieving for what needs to heal and to start filling that dark hole inside yourself with yourself.
To take action and to change these life long patterns takes many things: staying in the moment; courage to identify triggers; being realistic and clear; simplicity and honesty about your changes; getting into a program of healing; seeing a therapist; getting and keeping a support system. Part of the healing process was also using the ceremonies of smudging, healing circles and sweat lodge with other Native people.
My participating and doing ceremonies within my own culture created a strong sense of being at home within myself. This was done with other Native people in ceremonies, who work hard to reclaim our lost culture and our heritage. The process was empowering for me and crucial for getting to know who I was. The Sundance helped complete this for me. The feeling of being blessed and at home makes it easier for me to share with others.
My father is a Dakota Ojibway from Long Plains Reserve and the Sundance gave me a strong connection to this man, something that was very hard to do while he was here on earth due to issues already mentioned in this article. I felt his presence while I was there by being with other Sundancers who look like him and carried themselves in certain similar mannerisms. I felt acknowledged by my ancestors as I sat with total comfort while visiting with them. I was in awe at this time. I felt totally at home.
As time went on I witnessed how the environment honored the Sundance ceremony. The Sundance was honored in many ways, sage being available for us, choke cherries being plentiful in the early month of June. The Sundancers came and worked together as if they knew each other for years, bringing down a thirty foot tree with ease and placing it on the Sundancers’ shoulders to be taken to the site, all without a hitch.
The coyotes howled at sunrise just before the first day of dancing began. Coyotes howled again, at sundown, at the end of the first day of dancing.
Lakota Sundance Songs that were passed on from generation to generation were sung. Singers and drummers started each day with ancient songs that surged though your body with old ways of knowing -songs that encouraged and soothed the Sun dancers while going through offerings for others. As the fourth day of dancing was coming to an end, a Bald Eagle flew over and circled around us in acknowledgment, with a blessing while taking our prayers to the creator.
In attending the Sundance I received many blessings and teachings. In sharing, my dilemma was super-ceded. The teaching of knowing what to share within the protocol of ceremonies and the teaching of knowing my role that plays a part in perpetuating the very old story of racism and genocide of native people. My greatest teaching that I received: I have to take the time to get to get to know my own family and culture; get to know my own culture like the back of my hand; get to know who is who in my community, who are the healers, who are the Elders of the old ways and who are the medicine people, if there are medicine people in my community. This knowledge can be shared and passed on to our youth. Information is power.
My participating in ceremonies was like research for me, along with piecing myself together. Cross referencing was my talking to many Elders from different cultures. It is important to respect and be comfortable with the person who is performing the ceremony.
In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to the ones who work hard in implementing and maintaining our way of life through the ceremonies. I know that this takes hard work and perserverance with support in many ways.
I’ve received the gift of your hard work. I met my ancestors and went home. Meegwetch. Thank You.
I would like to end this by saying thanks to Mrs. Rita Pineaux, Darryl Pineaux and family members, Mr. and Mrs. Mario Pineaux and new baby, for your welcome, your sharing of the teachings and opening your home to us.
I would like to request your support, in any way possible, for the Sundance. Donations of material to make the Tepees, expenses for vehicles, transportation needed, funds for setting up the site, wood, gas and food will all be greatly appreciated.
Please contact or sent contributions either to myself or to:
Mrs. Rita Pineaux.
RO. Box – General Delivery – Belvidere, South Dakota -Rosebud Reservation.
For more Information please do not hesitate to call me -at (514) 484-0367