- DORREEN YELLOW BIRD COLUMN: Faith, hope and worry rise as Sundance draws
Before the morning sun reaches the horizon and touches rooftops, a
silvery gray slowly seeps into the dark of night. That silvery predawn
melts away the night like the dingy winter snow. Pink from the sun - a
sun that still is reaching for the horizon - paints a few small brush
strokes through the white overcast sky.
It might have been that first sound of a bird calling for a warm day
that woke me early that morning or just an unsettling feeling that
change is coming. Whatever the reason, the early dawn brought me clear
memories of a July ceremony last summer.
Butterflies bumped for attention in the pit of my stomach as memories of
an early dawn at Sundance consumed me. As I stood there looking out the
window, I found myself reaching to cover my arms from cold even though
it was warm in my room.
I remembered the still, cool air as I waited to hear the sounds of drums
that would call us to prayer at the Sundance camp last summer. As I lay
in my sleeping bag waiting, I knew the day would be hot. I would be
thirsty and hungry, and the ceremony would challenge my strength. I
remember well. This is my 10th year.
Watching the early dawn recently, I could feel and see change coming,
and I realized I am getting seriously close to the July ceremony. A
friend, relative, mentor and a man who answers my Sundance questions,
told me preparation for Sundance starts the day we leave the Sundance -
that is our New Year, he said. His work and participation with the
Sundance goes beyond 40 years. Even his children grew up in Sundance
ceremonies, and they know this way well.
I was troubled when I talked to him. "Doesn't living your life according
to the traditions of the Sundance means walking the 'Red Road' close and
narrow?", I asked him. What exactly does it mean? How far can we stray
from this way before we should step back from participation in the
It starts, he said, when we leave the ceremony. You should spend that
next year preparing yourself for this sacrifice and intense prayer. That
means you try to live your life in a good way, treating everyone -
including yourself - as you would a sacred spirit. I was troubled
because I was hearing that some of those who participate were starting
their preparation for Sundance only a few months before the ceremony.
They, I heard, also were abusing alcohol - not the way of a Sundancer or
You should respect all those who make decisions about ceremonies. They
have different ways. Those ways were given to them in a vision or
through intense prayer and sacrifice, I was told by another medicine man
from the South. There are different ways even within the same bands of
different tribes. So, if you chose to participate in their ceremony,
then you follow their ways, he said.
I have spent most of my life listening to these elders and spiritual
leaders, starting with my grandmother and continuing on through uncles,
relatives and mentors from other tribes. Their advice and opinions are
important to me, so I try to listen and respect what they say. In these
days when there are many different leaders and so many different
ceremonies, sometimes these leaders bump up against one another and
disagree. But most of those disagreements are about protocol and the
different ways they were taught, not about abuse of the ceremonies.
My troubling thoughts were how to help in those ceremonies that I
support through attendance, not participation. I am firm in my
commitment to the Sundance in South Dakota. I realized that the sun was
getting higher in the sky, and the ceremony is near, so how do I in
participate in those other ceremonies, I asked my friend. You'll know.
The answer is within you, he said. Remember what you were taught.
Respecting and honoring the ways of other ceremonial participants is
important. It is not my role to watch and point out the mistakes of
other dancers, but as the number of ceremonies grow in Indian country,
we need to consider how these ceremonies can be kept intact and sacred.
After all, they are for the well-being of individuals, Native people and
all nations of this world.
Yellow Bird writes columns Tuesday and Saturday. Reach her by phone at
780-1228 or (800) 477-6572, extension 228, or by e-mail at