Sun Dance - Ceremony of the American Indians

Among the many religious dances that were introduced many centuries or millennia ago, Sun Dance represents one that came into the clash with modern society, managing to survive and endure even after it became banned by modern authorities. The origin of this dance is closely tied to the indigenous people of America and Canada that lived in North American territories of plains and Canadian prairies. Tribes living in those regions were nomadic, following the vast herds of buffaloes and forming their religion based on numerous seasonal changes and moments during their yearly travels (although a notable part of the tribal groups have lead a semi-sedentary life, choosing to settle in a particular region while also sending its people to hunt buffalo). Because of their notable resistance to the arrival of the European influence that started spreading from the Eastern Coast of North America, and their willingness to house members of other tribes that were displaced from that conflict, tribes of the Plains Indians in US and Canada became well documented by the American settlers who came in contact with them on a regular basis during both peacetime and warfare.

Sun Dance Ceremony

One of the central religious ceremonies of the Plains Indians was a sun dance, a tribal dance that was celebrated each summer that was quite different from other religious dances that were practiced all around the world. This dance had a dual purpose depending on the viewpoint. The entire dance itself was dedicated to the celebration of Earth and Sun, believing that the Earth and the entire universe would stop regenerating its natural resources and the creativity the people living on it have. The individual dancers, however, danced for their personal wishes, praying for better future, for their family members or friends, or wishing to determine their place in the universe.

The ceremony itself used dance routines and songs that were passed on from generation to generation to new tribal members, with some of the participants choosing to perform feats of endurance, piercings of the skin, and personal sacrifices on behalf of the community.

Sun Dance Indians

Musical instruments were almost always confined to the set of drums and ceremonial pipes that were played during the entire time of long and often grueling dance that lasted for better part of a day and into the night, most commonly with dancers circling a central pole (often decorated to represents a ceremonial totem). Not all members of the tribe danced sun dance. Younger and more fit members prepared for the dance for days, feasting in the open areas in and around the villages or camps, preparing to offer their personal sacrifice of endurance to the sun, while other members of the tribe supported the dancers by organizing the dance (with preparations often lasting even entire year). Settler communities and later modern civilization never managed to properly examine origins, traditions, and forms of this dance because Indian culture expressly forbids dancers, tribal members, tribal doctors and chieftains of publicly speaking about it (and filming of the dance is forbidden).

European settlers to the North America became discontent with the tradition of sun dance because of the self-mutilation (piercings) that happened during these long-lasting and trans-like ceremonies. This discontent was finally made into official ban in US and Canada that forbade the practice of sun dancing. This rule was ignored quietly by the tribes who managed to preserve their traditions, leading to the lifting of the ban in the middle of 20th century. Modern members of Plain Tribes that still practice sun dance (Lakota, Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot and others) have spent considerable effort trying to educate other communities and general audience about the significance of this dance and their cultures, often with a goal to demystify the secrecy about the dance and portray it as safe and celebratory ceremony.