The Sundance is a very powerful Native American ceremony. For me it’s certainly the most intense ritual that I participate in. The dance is hard on our bodies. It’s emotional. It can be painful. But we believe the prayers are powerful too. Believing that our prayers are making even the smallest difference makes it all worth it to me. And that’s why we sacrifice our energy and sometimes our flesh. We do it because we want to help humanity and help mother earth. We want to help all of our relations.
What I love about my Sundance family is that they are taking it seriously. There is no messing around. They’re not just posturing. Anyone who is a true Sundancer is all in because they wouldn’t do it otherwise. The people who I sundance with are very committed to this way. They put themselves, their lives and their families through great sacrifice to be able to practice these ceremonies. They love and support one another and they pray hard together.
The Sundance is said to be one of the hardest ceremonies in the world. It is a prayer ceremony but it is also a piercing ceremony. It is four days of standing, dancing and praying in the sun or rain with no food or water. The men, and some women, are all pierced in the chest, back or arms, then connected to the Sundance tree with a rope that will eventually be pulled from the skin. If you didn’t trust these ways or have such a deep desire to help, you wouldn’t do the ceremony. It’s just too hard. No one would do it unless they believed it really counted for something. It’s a way of giving back to the earth in the form of commitment, prayer and blood sacrifice.
I am blessed to be able to say that we have wonderful Sundance leaders of high integrity. Our female Sundance leaders are strong women. We have a very gentle Sundance Chief and male Sundance leaders. In a spiritual tradition where men are often tough love leaders, who frequently belittle women, even saying we cannot be medicine people, it is refreshing to have these gentle male souls as our guides. All of them commit to leading the dance for many years.
When I first started, I did not know any of the other dancers. I felt like an outsider. But soon bonds were formed. In last years’ dance, I noticed how the Sundancers would look into each other’s eyes when they spoke to one another. They called each other family. At first it took me awhile to understand why. We do our best to be present for one another with the same goal for healing in mind. In Lakota it is called “Cante Wanji La Cannunpa” or “One heart, One mind, One prayer” and means being connected with each other in order to create the strongest intention for healing.
It takes that for the ceremony to be strong and safe for everyone present, not just the Sundancers. Understanding “Cante wanji la Cannunpa” helps to better understand the interconnectedness that occurs between us. And its’ how I came to understand what it means to call each other a Sundance family.