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The cartoon is not really accurate. Selling things at a Sun Dance is prohibited.
The cartoon is simply a way to introduce a topic, as we have done with several others.
In no way is it meant to be disrespectful to Native American customs.

 

Information from Book Source (listed below) as well as an email I received.

 The following  information was sent to me in e-mail.

The Sun Dance associated colors are red, yellow, white and black. The colors represent the following:
Red = the sunset
Yellow = forked lightning
White = light
Black = night

This dance is observed in late June or early July, wherever the first full moon closest to the summer solstice lands. The  Sioux aren't the only tribe that performed this dance. It's also performed by the:  Arapaho, Arikara, Asbinboine,  Blackfoot, Bungi,  Comanche, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros, Ventre, Hidutsa, Sioux, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibway, Sarasi, Omaha, Ponca, Ute, Shoshone,  Mandan, and Kiowa, tribes.  As with all cultures, the Native Americans also feel that seasonal and celestial cycles are important to them, mostly because they migrated so much in their past.

The ceremony lasts 16 days.  The first 8 days are spent in preparation. The performance is 4 days. Then 4 days of abstinence. This is a time for renewal and healing. They feel it was crucial this ceremony be held at midsummer when the sage plant was succulent and when the sun was at it's highest point in the sky.

The participants of the dance fasted (not eating or drinking) during the actual dance. They'd take a sweat bath in the morning on the first day. Then they'd paint their bodies in the symbolic colors mentioned above.  They'd dress in a deerskin apron and wristlets. They wore anklets made of rabbit's fur. And, they had a feather in their hair.  Members from tribes many miles away would come and set up their tipis to form a circular dance area around the sun pole.  This sun pole had been cut and painted in advance. (See below)  The music accompaniment of the Sun Dance is a large drum, along with ceremonial songs.  The dancers will circle in procession as a way of communing with the creator, the sun and the earth.

The buffalo head symbolizes plenty because Native Americans would kill the buffalo, eat it's meat and use it's skin for clothing.  The buffalo also symbolized strength and comfort. The buffalo was often featured in the Sun Dance because the buffalo feeds on sage and willow. This meant to the Native Americans that the buffalo depended on the sun.

The Arapaho Indians on the Wind River Reservation near Fort Washakie, Wyoming focus mainly on the buffalo in their Sun Dance.  A huge center pole with a buffalo head on top and 12 outer poles surrounding it create a circular enclosure where the dance is performed. The buffalo head faces west, toward the Rocky Mountains.  Freshly picked sage is placed on the buffalo head nose.  The dancers approach the pole and then step back, never ever letting their eyes stray from the buffalo head. 

Sage is known for its strong scent and was a common symbol for healing and breathing. This is why it was often placed on the buffalo head nose.  By doing this, it made it seem as though the buffalo was still alive and able to breathe.

The Sun Pole was usually made of cottonwood, very tall and was in the center of the circular enclosed dance area.  This pole was a phallic symbol as well as symbol of the sun.  Among the Sioux Indians, the Sun Pole represented a supernatural being called Wakan-Tunka, the all-pervading power of the universe.  When it came time for the ceremonial cutting of the Sun Pole, it was done by 4 young virgins (2 male and 2 female).  Some tribes substitute a sword or a stick.

The Ute and Cheyenne Indians would fasten a willow branch in the fork at the top of the cottonwood sun pole. This is why the northern Cheyenne call the ceremony the Willow Dance. To them the willow symbolizes water and growing things. So the Cheyenne somewhat ignore the sun worship part of this ceremony all together.

 

Note: This part of the Sun Dance is controversial and disturbing to some!

Pain and self-sacrifice was a part of life to many Native Americans.  Today, they feel the Sun Dance gives them an opportunity to renew themselves and give thanks to the sun by sacrificing their own flesh.  Participation in the Sun Dance is done of one's own free will as a way of offering oneself to the creator.  The  participants are called the "pledgers" who  have wooded skewers (or sometimes eagle claws) inserted under the skin of their chests.  These skewers were attached to a strong rope and tied to the Sun Pole. The dancers formed a circle around the pole and after going toward it 4 times to place their hands on it and pray, they would pull back as hard as they could until the skewers were torn free.  

An alternative to this was to have the skewers inserted under the skin of the shoulder blades. Then heavy buffalo skulls would be hung from the skewers by thongs and dragged around until the weight of the skulls eventually tore the skewers loose.

 Another variation is to have the dancers suspend themselves from the pole with ropes attached to the skewers; or, tie the ropes to a horse. The dancers would continue until they became unconscious from the pain or tore themselves loose. Afterwards they felt they would receive a divine vision.

To outsiders, the Sun Dance seems painful and perhaps barbaric? But, the Sun Dance continues to be supported by dedicated tribes who still observe this tradition. 

It was the belief of many Indian tribes that the sun "died" after the solar eclipse of August 7, 1869.  The Sioux performed their last Sun Dance in 1881.  The painful elements of the Sun Dance were widely misunderstood, resulting it being condemned by the US Government . in 1904.  But, many of the traditions of the Native Americans are being reclaimed, including the Sun Dance. It  survives today in many northern and western tribes (particularly the Southern Utes and Arapaho).
 Partial source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

The Sundance colors are as follows:

Red = Unity because all people's blood is red.

Yellow = Wisdom/bravery
White = The Spirit World;
The Milky Wave-respect
Black = Strength/Thunderbeings

We don't commune with the sun, but with God. We only believe in one God.

The Sun Dance is a ceremony for healing. Not everyone does the Sun Dance. You have to have a reason and to pray with your heart. Pain and self-sacrifice are not a part of our lives! We only give flesh if we have a problem like a sick relative or ones who are dying.  I have never seen anyone become unconscious.  No one at the Sun Dance receives a divine vision. That happens at the Vision Quest, which is a different ceremony.

The Sun Dance is set up in a circular structure with shade for the people that support the Sun Dancers.

 

The dances start on June 21 and go all summer long. The Sun Dance ceremony lasts 4 days.  The Vision Quest lasts 4 days. This is why some say the Sun Dance is perhaps 8 days? But, these are two different ceremonies and they do not follow each other.

When the Sun Dance starts, you go into a sweat lodge to purify yourself, every day for 4 days.  During this time you do not drink water or eat anything. You dance all 4 days. The drum is the heartbeat of the nation and the singer sings sacred songs that have been passed down for thousands of years.

The fasting is done for our families. No body painting is done in the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota (Sioux), Cheyenne, Mandan, Shoshone, Ponca, Ojbways and Omahas tribes.

Men wear kilts made of deer hide. Women wear long dress that cover their bodies with shawls. Wristlets and anklets made of sage are also worn. There is no rabbit fur.

 

The buffalo represent our brother. We honor him because he gives life so that we may live. We know that as long as the buffalo exist, we will.  The buffalo symbolize life and is center of our lives and is a part of our spirituality. We walk together.

 

Sage is a common medicine we use here on the plain for colds, flu and other sickness. It is also a disinfectant that kills germs. We use sage in our everyday life. It grows on the plains. In fact, if a buffalo is sick, he will eat sage. We use sage as one of our sacred herbs because of its purifying qualities.

It is only made of cottonwood by the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Objway and Mandan.  The rest of the tribes use other trees. 

The ceremony for cutting the tree is done by young girls around the ages of 6 to 7 years  old. They use an ax.

The pole is not a phallic symbol; but, a symbol of God. Wakan Tanka is what we call the great mystery; and, it is a Lakota, Dakota and Nakota word. The other tribes have their own word for God.

Willow is what we make tobacco out of. As I said before, the Sun Dance has nothing to do with worshipping the sun. That is just a white version of misunderstanding. Water is sacred and we don't talk about it at a Sun Dance or at a Willow Dance.

Pain and self-sacrifice is not a part of our lives!  It is laughter and humor. We only give flesh if we had a problem like a sick relative or one who is dying.

The government outlawed the Sun Dance and many of our ways including language, spirituality, homes, clothing, our way of live in the 1880's.  We were taken from our homes as children and put in boarding school, were many of us were abused by those d___ Christians! The Lakota did not do their last Sun Dance in 1881.  It continued underground and it came out in the open with every war you created: WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm. Now we pray for you all to stop these wars.

The Sun Dance has been performed by the Lakota since time began. The Southern Ute and Arapahos are not the ones to keep it alive.

 

Return to our June Holidays Page for more celebrations.

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