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Ceremony Season

This excellent piece on Indian ceremonies was written by my friend Wickapi and originally posted in alt.native newsgroup. With her permission, I'm publishing it here. I hope that if you are interested in attending Indian ceremonies, or if you don't understand why Indians sometimes get tired of seeking privacy, you will read this and perhaps gain some more understanding of things on the other side of the blanket.

It's high ceremony season, at last...
Summer is the time for joyful meeting, for feasting, dancing, sacrifice and prayers, rebirth and renewal, by members of all of our many Nations. We have been waiting for many long, dreary winter months, and it's finally that wonderful time again!

And--yes-- now that the weather's good, it's also the time when many non-Indians want to attend our most sacred and high ceremonies. Not that there is anything wrong with non-Indians attending ceremony... there isn't, in my eyes. I don't see any problem at all, when it's done correctly. But there ARE right ways, and wrong ways, for non-Indians to conduct themselves at a high ceremony such as Sundance.

Every single year we Indians have encountered the same big problem with uninvited guests just "showing up" unaccompanied by knowlegeable Indian sponsors, acting however they want, saying or asking whatever they wish, and in general expecting everything to be handed to them on a silver platter by any Indian in sight. They say that they "deserve" things, that nothing should be kept secret from them, that they have a right to be here, and to learn whatever they want. They say entering an Indian ceremony should be the same as joining a church or some other non-Indian group, and that it should be open to anyone who wants to go. They come demanding things, not respectfully asking for them. They come with a built-in attitude, and often openly argue with those who defy meeting their demands. They come to tread over sacred boundaries that even Indians won't step over in that most holy of places, and they come to ask pointed questions that pry into the private affairs of the dancers, and they bring dogs, or hidden cameras or tape recorders or notebooks to write in, or else women will come when they are on their moon, since they don't believe in our customs.

These people come not understanding the ceremony, many times not respecting it, and demanding to be "taught everything on the spot." Sometimes they actually go so far as to ask if they can take an active part in the ceremony, such as drumming or singing or pouring a sweat, or even dancing in the ceremony. In camp, they irritate everyone by going around wearing eagle feathers or other Indian ceremonial adornments, or they dress in an inappropriate way, or they talk around a lot and claim to know this or that famous or popular Indian, or they brag about having a "little" Indian blood which the family has kept secret for generations, or they tell everyone within earshot how educated they are, perhaps in cultural anthropology or another related field as though that gives them instant credibility. Or perhaps their boyfriend/girlfriend is NDN and they believe that gives them instant respect and access to anything they want in the doings.

These uninvited strangers have a million reasons why we Indians OWE them, why we must give in to their demands for our most secret, profound knowledge, our sacred religion, our holy ceremony, and they believe they have a right to personally audience with any of us one-on-one even if we don't want to talk about anything with them. Because we are standing on sacred ground, in most cases we Indians must be polite to these non-Indian relatives. As much as we'd like to, we can't simply tell them that they are being major disrespectful PESTS, and that we wish they'd just GO AWAY and leave us alone so that we can practice our religion in peace.

As has been noted so many times on this ng, Indians are often charged by non-Indians of being "greedy" with our religion, or of being "seclusionist" when we try to protect our ceremonies or to keep them private from non-Indians whom we don't know. What they don't EVER seem to understand is that we will NOT respond to demands or charges. The door will remain tightly closed to this disrespect!!! We only welcome those into the sacred circle who have ALREADY earned our trust-- which DOES take time to develop, sorry, but no "instant trust" is available on the spot to strangers that we've never met before who want to come to ceremony to "learn" everything.

You see, in the past we have already had everything we held dear either stolen from us, vandalized, bastardized, slaughtered, or otherwise ruined or tainted by outsiders. Our seeming paranoia and overprotectiveness regarding our precious religions and ceremonies is based upon twice-proven grounds! These days, our trust and our respect must be earned over a period of time before access to our hearts and our souls and our ceremonies can be openly given. Given past history, how can anyone possibly not understand this?

To those who still disagree: We do not apologize to you. We owe you nothing. You come here, a non-Indian stranger, uninvited and unwelcome, wanting and demanding everything. If you want something, you must go about your quest in the way WE want you to go about it, not in the way YOU think it should go. Those are the rules, set in cement! Get mad and cry racist or other things if you want, no one will really care, you will only be further shunned for this obnoxious behavior as it will prove to us beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have no respect and no honor for our traditions or for us as individuals. And whining around and saying that no one will teach you or that you do not have access to Indian culture where you live, will do you no good either. It's not OUR fault that you are in that particular situation, and it doesn't automatically mean that we MUST teach you or give you what you want just because you haven't been able to get it any other way. If this seems harsh, perhaps it is. The bottom line is that we don't owe you our religion or our ceremonies or even our company, WHATEVER your reasons are for wanting them, and we aren't going to apologize for that. You must EARN the right to them.

We Indians have come to this ceremony to pray in the ancient ways of our grandfathers and our grandmothers, and it took many hard years for us to learn these ways. We have come to this ceremony to walk a Spirit Path, to make personal sacrifices of ourselves, to make prayers to the Great Mystery in order that our voices will be heard as one, so that our Red People, and all of the other three colors of People, will go on living forever, and so that this blessed Mother Earth and all her sacred creatures will continue to be fertile and grow and thrive forever. As well, we come here to this ceremony to pray for very private and personal reasons which we don't wish to share with anyone else. We come here to this ceremony to pray with our people in a most sacred and beautiful way that has taken us many years to learn from our elders. We are not here at this ceremony to entertain you, teach you, welcome you into our religion, or to adopt you as one of us. There isn't time for that right now, and it's not why we came here anyway...

You want to learn something from us, then you will do it right, our way, come in here with respect, or come here not at all. If you wish to attend this sacred ceremony, then come with a sponsor, someone who already understands what the ceremony is all about, and who will act as your guide and your mentor, who will steer you clear of any trouble you could get yourself into by doing or saying the wrong things. Also, do not expect to leave here with all the answers to all your questions-- because even Indian participants who have been coming to these ceremonies for decades still do not have all the answers, and not even the elderly medicine people will claim that they do. You should come here not expecting ANYTHING. Come here to be respectful, to be quiet and non-intrusive, to support the dancers and the ceremony, and to be seen and not heard.

Above all, be prepared to earn respect and show humility by working in a community spirit by splitting wood, hauling water, carrying out trash, cutting brush, preparing camping sites, building a kitchen, cooking and washing dishes, or doing any number of other things where you will be most appreciated-- and most noticed as a good person who comes among us not to take from us, but to give us something-- yourself, your good heart, and your helping hands-- your true, loving self. And then, next year when you come here again, you will be most pleasantly surprised when some Indian comes up to the camp gate with a big smile and shakes your hand and says, "Well, hello, Jim and Sarah! It's good to see you again! Where are you camped? Are you hungry? We got a venison dinner goin'..."

New Potential Friend, even if you can't go to ceremony, you can still be a part of it. Just burn a little sage and make a couple of red prayer ties and say your prayers. The Great Mystery and the Tree of Life always hear you. The first of the season's ceremonies are happening even as you read this.


Many thanks to Wicakpi for this piece, and for her friendship and prayers.

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