Sundance Traditions - Yankton Press & Dakotan: Editorials

The Rez of the Story Sundance Traditions

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014 11:16 pm

Hau Mitakuepi (Greetings My Relatives),

Here is part four of four of a series describing Fred Zephier Junior’s recollection of how the Sundance was returned to the Ihanktowan Dakotah people (Yankton Sioux Tribe). Last week Fred tells us that: “My brother Al was on the Tribal Council and brother Greg was involved in the struggle for Indian rights.”

To continue: “Al and Dad along with other members of the newly formed Heritage Committee, which was made up of traditional Yankton people, approached the Tribal Council [meaning the Business and Claims Committee] to request money for the Sundance. The Tribal Council gave $4,000.00 to the Committee. The money was used to hire a crew to cut wood, gather rocks, to build an arbor and shade.

“It was a time when the consciousness of Indian people seemed to have reached a point of no return. Indians finally got off their knees--they were standing up for the injustices they were confronted with and they sought redress for numerous treaty violations by the United States Government.

“The Lakota people at Pine Ridge were the first to do the Sundance in the 1960’s at the Lakota Nation Fair. Although it was a Sundance the participants did not pierce their flesh. That wasn’t done until the early 1970’s. Russell Means, a member of the American Indian Movement, Matthew King, a spokesman and interpreter for the Lakota people, and Frank Fools Crow, a Lakota Holy Man, were instrumental in conducting the Sundance the way it was meant to be done. The Sundance in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation was the first Sundance where the men dancers pierced their chests. Prior to that time it was a kind of mock Sundance.

“While my family and I were at the Sundance in Green Grass, I went with Dad to Fools Crow’s tipi. When we got to Fools Crow’s tipi, we announced ourselves and he invited us in. After we went in we sat for awhile and that is when Dad said, “Kola, I am not a medicine man, but I want to ask you if I could have a Sundance on my land on the Yankton reservation?” Fools Crow listened and shook his head and acknowledged Dad. Then he said, “Kola, you don’t even have to ask me, go ahead and have a Sundance.” Dad shook hands with Fools Crow and thanked him and we went back to our tipi. Those month that followed were spent in preparation and planning for the Sundance.

“My brothers Al, Greg, and my sister Margaret, Dad, and others from the Tribe planned that first Sundance. Together they took care of logistics that would lead to the first Sundance on the Yankton Reservation in more than 80 years. The first Sundance was held from June 22 through June 25, 1976. That date was significant in that it was exactly one hundred years earlier on June 25, 1876 that the Ocheti Shakowin or the Seven Council Fires (the Great Sioux Nation) along with our allies defeated the U.S. Seventh Calvary at the Little Big Horn (also known as Custer’s Last Stand).

“The first two Yankton Sundance’s were conducted by Lakota elder Frank Fools Crow and the storyteller and Lakota translator, Matt King, accompanied him to the Yankton Sundance. During the Sundance, Matthew King took it upon himself to be the Master of Ceremonies, so to speak. As part of the Sundance ceremony the Sun dancers get a rest period after offering their Pipe to the singers and to the people. It was during this time that Matthew would tell stories about Crazy Horse. He shared what he knew about the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 and then again in the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement. Along with his stories he provided insight about the Indian struggle and the importance of being recognized within the United States as Independent and Sovereign  Nations. Those of us who heard Matt tell his stories were honored and I, along with many others miss him and his stories

“When Dad passed away in February of 1989, we talked about having a Naming ceremony for him which Arvol Looking Horse conducted. He was given the name “Walks a Hard Road.” Dad was buried in February of 1989 along Seven Mile Creek.”

And now you know the rez of the story.

Doksha (later) ...

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