The First Night Sun Dance


A tall tree was found. Y shaped with a strong fork, it looked like a large as it stood there. A group of young men, some not so young watched as one of them shot the tree and then it was cut down. They had gathered to prepare for the next four days, and it was their time to work on the corral to be used by them. The limbs were cut off but it stood sixty feet tall still and was hauled down the mountain.

There is this place on a high plain as you go up to it you can see the old campsites, small shade houses from years past falling to the ground and in the middle of these there are scattered over a large area similar trees with the distinct y shape, some with colored ribbons from years past threadbare blowing in the breeze.

A post hole is dug and the tree placed in the middle of these old camp sites, the men either walk without shoes or wear moccasins on their feet, they place the center pole solidly into the ground. One of them is near 70, his gray hair wet from his sweat, others are younger and they help place posts around it leaving an opening to the East.

The corral is now 70 feet across and slowly it begins to take the shape of a wagon wheel with long posts running from the center pole to the edge of circle. Near dusk the last of the poles is placed. Later that evening the group seeks out young trees with bushy limbs to lie on the outside of the corral.

As nightfall comes there is thunder to the South, blowing wind moves the yellow colored grass as the group comes together. They go into the corral in single file, each wearing an apron, and they carry eagle bone whistles and some leaves for shade.

There are 45 dancers, who enter the Sun dance corral; as they go in the headman places each against the brush wall of the circle shaped corral and tells them this where they will sit for the next three days. Each hopes they don't get the North side where the sun touches you throughout the day. As they sit they are counseled on how it will go and to clear their mind for the time ahead.

In the distance of the Sun Dance grounds there are campfires a long ways away from the corral as family members walk to the edge of the corral and listen as two large drums are taken in and from somewhere emerge the singers carrying drum sticks.

Who is that carrying the drum anyway? Isn't it the cashier at the gas station where we stopped this afternoon, and then there is the oil field gager we saw yesterday and then there is the day care worker. All of them without saying a word they go in and sit on the south side of the corral placing the large drum in the middle and they begin to sing.

Some of the older women go in and sit near them; they cannot cross a certain point where a fire will be built each night. Slowly the song comes, it is deep, with a slow driving beat of the drum. It is the Sun Dance song. Each man stands and with him his family and close friends stand in his support outside the corral stand as a matter of respect for him.

He stands there, with a pale orange skirt that hangs from his waist to his feet. The moccasins were given to him by a cousin and the eagle bone whistle provided by his grandfather with other things needed in an old battered small metal suitcase used by each of his uncles when they danced just like this years ago.

It is his first time. What will it be like...to dance for three days back and forth to the center pole without water, no food and the sun beating down. It has been so hot. He stands his brown eyes seeing that beyond the shade of the corral in the firelight his family stands there for him and his uncles.

It is a lonely journey in a way and it is one that each dancer has decided to make, some by a dream that came one night, others who renew certain promises made from a long time ago, others do it for tradition, family or some need they don't have a clear answer for. There are 45 of them all together, mostly young men but there are some gray heads in there sprinkled about.

As they begin to dance from the edge to the center pole you can see that them in there, each ready to dance and sacrifice thirst and hunger to seek a personal quest, to test themselves and find some point where they might understand life a little better, balancing the world they see and those of a higher power.

The thunder has come closer and with it the wind picks up and the breeze is strong whipping branches and the songs go on. As the dancers move the thought comes to mind and if it rains it is said it will go hard on the dancers because it will dry them out.

Slowly the wind blows and shade around the corral dances in the wind, back and forth with each breeze and the rain begins to fall, all the time the drummers continue to sing and they stand and dance. The rain covers them and they are all wet. Night falls and this is the first night.

The dancers move back and forth to the center pole and rain falls on them, it is a hard rain covering every part of them. It rains and rains for two hours maybe more and those dancers continue to dance back and forth listening to the sound of the drum.

He moves like he is gliding, he has run each morning to get ready for this test, to eat those foods that have no salt and other things he was told to eat to preserve strength and promote endurance.

Those that sing have all danced years before and know the trial of mind, body and soul will be tested. A lightning filled sky the flashes and in the distance there stand the remains past Sun Dances, the old center poles appear white and pale with wind blown scarf remnants tied to their mast, each pole has it's own story to tell, and these men have been there before; just like him dancing. The song is strong and carries a certain sound, one of timelessness and measured step.

The yellow grass drinks up the rain which as been gone for so long. Soaked and wet they dance and then the drums stop and the rain continues to fall. The dancers retreat to the places they have picked out for the next three days and some sit and others lay down on a bed of leaves covered by a soaked white sheet and try to sleep; to dance again in the morning. The ground is wet and the wind blows cold.

In the midst of the wind, he lies there, his brown skin glistening from the rain and his own sweat. What is he is thinking? That I have to put the cold out of my mind and let it go. I can do this and sleep till daylight. In the morning before sunrise we will stand together with each other and greet the Dawn; so it have been done each year in this place by those who have danced before by my people, the tie continues. I am one of them and they are me....

This Sundance has begun the first night goes by filled with rain, wind and lightning. The black sky is filled with lightning flashes and with this the long night covers them and they wait for the first dawn.

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