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The Sundance: A Journey of Enlightenment

The Sundance (ashkisshe) is structurally similar to the ritual of the vision quest. In both instances, baaattaakuuo, the making of a private vow to Akbaatatdia, precedes participation. The vow expresses the needs of an orphaned individual. Fasting (bilisshiissannee) is the means of sacrifice in both rituals, and if an individual is sincere (diakaashe), a vision and adoption by the Iilapxe may transpire. The ritual processes for both the Sundance and the fast focus on the individual sacrifice and spiritual attainment.

While the fast is entirely an individual and private endeavor, however, the Sundance is an aggregate of individual expressions, dramatically demonstrating concern and love for family, tribe, and humanity. Ties with family and friends are reaffirmed and strengthened. A lodge is built, cattails are collected and given out, songs are sung, and a feast is prepared and served, all to those who offer their prayers and themselves in the Sundance. The prayers offered during the sunrise ceremony may be directed at the welfare of a family member, of an entire family, of all apsaalooke, or of all people during the Sundance.

The preparation for a Sundance are extensive and have become more so in recent years, with two and occasionally three Sundances being held on the reservation each summer. First a sponsor for the Sundance comes forward after having vowed (baaattaakuuo) to “put up” a dance. This usually happens at the conclusion of one Sundance or at a prayer meeting held the winter before the announced time. Usually after the first spring thunder, a ceremony is held at the site of the Sundance. Sweet cedar is burned and a prayer is offered to Isaahke to tell him where the center pole of the lodge will be placed. The prayer and the marking ceremony are considered the 1st of 4 “outdoor dances” held at the site. These “rehearsal dances” involve many future participants, including the sponsor. Then at the end of each “rehearsal dance” a feast is served for the participants. While the rehearsal dances take place at night, the days before a Sundance are designated for the cutting and gathering of the material needed to construct a lodge.

The most subtle, but most fundamental ritual of the Sundance is chiwakiia (act of prayer). It is in prayer that a participants intentions are stated. The song of the singers, with the help from the smoke of tobacco, carry the words of the prayer to Akbaatatdia (The Maker.) Dancing is the primary activity for most Sundance participants and is considered the most spectacular dimension of the ceremony. Dancing like prayer is a personal endeavor, Each to their own pace, because by the 3rd and final day most participants are severely weakened from fasting and extreme heat of the day.

The "driftwood" world view is revealed through the Crow Sundance. As the driftwood bundle is tightly interwoven, so are the Sundancers. Every participant is intertwined to the family for encouragement and refreshment, as well as the Lodge with it's center pole. Eagle Buffalo and Little Old Man. The bond becomes animated when the dancers sincerity is offered. In exchange a prayer is channeled, a vision received, or a cure obtained. A child is blessed with good health, or a dancer is guided by the buffalo during a vision. The meaning and the life-force of the transcendent are brought to bear upon and realized within the participants of the Sundance.