Created: Tuesday, 03 September 2013 17:12
Published: Tuesday, 03 September 2013 17:12
Written by Administrator 3
Recently, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (Indigenous people's national television in Canada) did a story on the Sundance and the airing of the ceremony caused not only some controversy but death threats against David Blacksmith the main person at the Sundance in Manitoba who allowed a television crew into the area. David Blacksmith is Cree, a man who has been sober for decades, a man who has worked with the spiritual side of our people since he was in his early twenties. Blacksmith attended the recent AIM Sundance in Pipestone Minnesota. Also in attendance at the AIM Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota was Leonard Crowdog.
Leonard Crowdog is the son of Henry Crowdog, a Dakota Medicine man that AIM went to in 1970s for spiritual understanding. Leonard is a well known Dakota Medicine Man who carried on the work of his father after Henry died. Today, Leonard has the largest Sundance in South Dakota with 400 to 500 Sundancers and up to 7,000 people who attend Crowdog's Sundance. People from all over the world come to his Sundance. Some Dakota have stated that they believe the Ojibway had no right to use the Sundance ceremony in Pipestone Minnesota but Leonard's answer was simple and clear, "Ask the Tree if it is Dakota".
Indigenous people suffered forced conversion to Christianity. Called Heathens, Pagans, and Devil Worshippers, residential schools in Canada and boarding schools in United States sprang up in the early 1900s and for decades forcefully took children away from their homes to indoctrinate them into Christian belief. In the 1800s, before the schools, indigenous people were being killed by the U.S. Army. The killing of over 300 Dakota men, women and children by the U.S. Calvary in December, 1890 was a prime example of how the white people feared native religious beliefs. The Ghost Dance swept across tribes in the United States before the Wounded Knee massacre. Wovoka, a Paiute, had a vision (more Christian than Indigenous) wherein Jesus would come and punish the whites in another great flood if "All Indians must dance, keep on dancing." Red Cloud, "There was no hope on earth, and God seemed to have forgotten us. Some said they saw the Son of God; others did not see him...The people did not know; they did not care. They snatched at the hope. They screamed like crazy men to Him for mercy. They caught at the promise they heard He had made. The White men were frightened and called for soldiers."
Clyde Belcourt, National Leader of American Indian Movement has stated many times; "God did not come to North America in 1492 on a boat, God was always here, what came on that boat in 1492 was the devil." In reading the book Black Elk Speaks, Clyde Belcourt and other AIM leaders saw a vision of how the Sundance (different than the Ghost Dance) could help the movement. They went to the reservations in South Dakota hoping to find the Sundance that Black Elk spoke of, instead they found a Catholic Priest in charge of the Dakota Sundance. Clyde speaks of the time when he and Lehman Brightman confronted the priest and with each on one side of the priest, they "tiptoed" the priest out of the Sundance to the protests of the Dakota audience. The next year, 38 AIM leaders went to Crowdogs to hold a traditional Sundance, regardless of the laws at that time that prohibited holding the Sundance ceremony without the protection of the Catholic church. Today, thousands of Sundances occur all over North America, some estimating perhaps up to 5,000 Sundances each year.
The Cult of Secrecy
Forty years ago, there were youth and elder gatherings, one of the biggest ones was the Ecumenical Conference at Morley, Alberta. Two Elders, Ernest Tootoosis and Eddie Benton Banai, were native spiritual leaders who were open about ceremonies. Tootoosis appeared on CBC Television on the program Man Alive with host Roy Bonisteel (March 3 1975) doing a pipe ceremony on Television. He was condemned amongst the indigenous people for breaking a taboo. Eddie Benton wrote the Mishomis Book, openly trying to reach the youth about Mediwiwin, the Anishinabe spiritual beliefs. Benton was also condemned for publishing his book but as an AIM leader he refused to quit and today heads one of the largest native spiritual movements in North America, the Three Fires Society. Eddie Benton is alive but Ernest Tootoosis died in an accident in the eighties.
Secrecy, the hiding of indigenous religious ceremonies was a product of years of persecution of native spirituality. Christianity was and is the forced indoctrination of indigenous people by some in the white race that believed that they and only they were the chosen people, that God appeared to them and only them. Some churches teach their followers that it is their God given mandate to force others to convert to white belief in Jesus Christ. The highest suicide rates in the world are amongst isolated northern reservations in Canada. David Blacksmith spoke at the Pipestone Sundance of one reservation in northern Manitoba where 27 youth suicides had occurred in the first seven months of 2013 alone. The community is heavily Christianized. Roseau River, my home community is an exception amongst First Natioins in Manitoba, perhaps less than 30 tribal members in Roseau River are practising Christians. Over 95% of the funerals in Roseau River are Mediwiwin, no white priest is needed to conduct funerals, no white priest to lead the deceased to the spirit world. There have been no suicides amongst the youth in Roseau River for the last twenty years.
It was the words of Black Elk that reached Clyde Belcourt as he was a young man in solitary. In Stillwater Prison, Minnesota, future AIM leaders read in books the words of people who struggled to save the voice of the indigenous people, to tell our side of history. Black Elk was a thirteen year old Oglala Dakota who witnessed the Battle of the Little Big Horn and fifteen years later he saw the bodies at the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890. Black Elk, "I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead." Forty years after Black Elk wrote those words in his 1932 book Black Elk Speaks, thirty-eight AIM leaders defying American laws that outlawed the Sundance and other native spiritual ceremonies, Sundanced at Crowdog's. Today, thousands and thousands of Sundances occur every summer in many parts of North America, even reaching into central America.
We owe it to the youth to throw off the fear, to openly celebrate what has been retained by the sacrifices of many generations who held on to the songs, to the ceremonies and we in our turn need to keep those gifts for future generations. Black Elk wrote a book. He told the story of his people. Eddie Benton did the same. At the same time as we held the Sundance this year in Pipestone Minnesota, in Roseau River, my brother Charles and other Mediwiwin leaders like Peter Atkinson held Mediwiwin ceremonies. hundred of people attended, some travelling a thousand miles to attend the Mediwiwin ceremonies. They had 50 people this year who gave their tobacco asking to become new Mediwiwin. None of our spiritual leaders speak against Christianity, we simply state that God has always been here in North America, God did not forget us. David Blacksmith made a decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance, that was his and his people's decision. AIM supports the right of David Blacksmith to reach out to the youth and his decision to allow television cameras into his Sundance. My own answer is simple, if some people don't agree with David Blacksmith, they don't have to attend his Sundance but we as AIM people should never condemn those working to reach out to our young people.
Keith "Swiftbird" Lussier, Chairman of the American Indian Movement spent all week at the Pipestone Sundance working with youth and adults who wanted to make a pipe. Keith is a master carver of pipes. He has spent forty years learning and teaching about making pipes. He has quarried the stone to make pipestone. Keith spent thirty-five years of service in native education, including March 21st, 2005. On that day, Jeff Weisse came into the Red Lake School and killed nine students. Keith blocked a door as Weisse tried to get at students Keith was protecting. A young student named Chase Lussier threw himself over a fellow student and took a bullet that killed him. Sixteen year old Chase Lussier gave his life for a fellow student. Chase did not have a Christian funeral. The priest was tired out by other funerals and could not attend the funeral of Chase Lussier. In the absence of the priest that the family was waiting for, the priest who never arrived, American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks and I conducted a little of the Ojibway funeral ceremonies as we could for Chase. Later, Mediwiwin people from Roseau River went to Red Lake to do a naming ceremony for Chase giving him an Ojibway name, Misko-Geesis. When the time came for heros, the youth of Red Lake were not wanting, the spirit of the warrior still exists in the youth of Red Lake.
Keith Lussier has committed that at Pipestone Minnesota, July 2014 Sundance, he is going to organize stone carvers to help any indigenous person who wants a pipe, that he will spend the time to help them carve a pipe. To learn this, they must present tobacco and be willing to hear from the elders on the meaning and teachings of the sacred pipe.
We will take the next eleven months to prepare for the Sundance in Pipestone Minnesota 2014. Pipestone is a sacred place where tribes held a oath to peace. There was treaty between all tribes that no one could be hurt there as they all came to quarry pipestone. The sacred pipe was given to all tribes to communicate with the Creator. The Sundance Chief for 2013 was Joe Morales. He did a great job. If anyone wants to Sundance in July 2014, contact Joe Morales at
. If you want to Sundance at Pipestone in July 2014, there is only one Sundance Chief, that will be Joe Morales. For pipe making contact Keith Lussier at his wife's email
, and for all other general inquiries contact "aimggc"
, or contact Clyde at
. Leonard Crowdog and David Blacksmith have committed to help organize the AIM Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota July 2014. We at AIM Manitoba also make our commitment to organize and financially support the Sundance at Pipestone 2014. We owe that to our youth who are seeking what was left behind for them. We as the living generation owe our ancestors who suffered for us, who remembered us, that we would be here wanting the songs and ceremonies. Now it is our turn to remember those who will want those gifts in the future.
For Chase Lussier, who didn't have a Priest at his Funeral and the 27 youth who committed suicide because we didn't do enough to reach them.
Next year's Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota
American Indian Movement Sundance at Pipestone Minnesota is set for early July 2014. Camp Day Thursday July 3rd, Tree Day July 9, 2014, Sundance ends Sunday July 13, Camp takedown on Monday July 14.