SUN GAZING/THIRST DANCE
The Sun Dance usually takes place in and around the Summer Solstice (June 21st) and is the most sacred ceremony of the Plains First Nations. The Europeans considered it a pagan and savage rite of passage. It was eventually outlawed for a time at the end of the nineteenth century. The original dance called for fixed gazing at the Sun while dancing, blowing bone whistles, fasting, self-torture by dragging buffalo skulls and/or being bound to the Sacred Tree with the insertion of a bone under the skin of the chest and then breaking the ties.
"For many tribes of Plains Indians whose buffalo-hunting culture flowered during the 18th and 19th centuries, the sun dance was the major communal religious ceremony. Although details of the event differed in various groups, certain elements were common to most tribal traditions. Generally, the annual ceremony was held in late spring or early summer when people from different bands gathered together again following the dispersal that customarily took place in winter. The Sun Dance is a ritual of prayer and sacrifice performed by virtually all of the High Plains peoples, including the Arapaho, Blackfeet, Blood, Cheyenne, Plains Cree, Crow, Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Kiowa, Ojibway, Shoshone, Lakota, and Ute. Today many of these tribes still carry out the sun dance, sometimes in altered form. The overall significance of the sun dance involves the spiritual renewal of participants and their relatives as well as the renewal of the living earth and all its components. In its broadest aspects, kinships within both the social and natural realms are reaffirmed." (Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, Symbolic Roles of Animals in the Plains Indian Sun Dance.)
"A man who has danced [the sun dance] has a special compact with pain...and he'll be hard to break....As the white-hot sun pours molten through your eyes into your inner being, as the skewers implanted in your chest pull and yank and rip at your screaming flesh, a strange and powerful lucidity gradually expands within your mind. The pain explodes into a bright white light, into revelation. You are given a wordless vision of what it is to be in touch with all being and beings....Every time a pin pricks your fingers from then on, that little pain will be but a tiny reminder of that larger pain and of the still greater reality that exists within each of us, an infinite realm beyond reach of all pain." (My Life is My Sun Dance, by Leonard Peltier, now serving time in Leavenworth Prison for a crime that has been proven he did not commit.)