Ookaan- Sun Dance
The word ‘Okan’ is a term used to describe an event where a vow is made to the sun for the well being of a relative who may be gravely ill. A vow is an oral contract between an individual and the Sky Beings.
Each summer when the Saskatoon berries are ripe, the Siksika come together to pitch their colorful painted tipi's in a large circle to observe the Sun Dance the
principal religious ceremony, initiations, and feasts of traditional Blackfoot cuisine.
The buffalo, considered the very source of life
and the major symbol of the Sun Dance, influenced the time and locality
of the ceremony, which were chosen by the proximity of the buffalo
herds. The overall importance of the Sun Dance was the
renewal of personal spirituality as well as the renewal of the living
earth, a time when kinships within both social and natural realms were
reaffirmed; and by doing so prosperity and social harmony would continue for another year.
After moving the camp four days in a row, the medicine bundle of
the ceremony, the Sun Dance lodge, are created on the fifth day.
It is here were our people gathered, though
only a few men actually participated. These men strove to obtain supernatural
aid and enhance their personal power through sacrifice in order to
become a more meaningful member of their society.
The sacrifice required the participants to
dance for three or four days while fasting and abstaining from drink. The rest of the Dance is considered scared and is not detailed on our website.
The Creation is expressed in the Sun Dance by the use of symbolic
objects that represent the attributes of various animals. Animals are viewed as wise and powerful and
served as intermediaries between us human being and the Sky beings.
Eagle is the chief of all creatures in the
air and respected for his wisdom and wealth. The life sustaining buffalo was the central
figure. Its' tongue, considered the most sacred part, was consumed as a
sacramental food during the ceremony and its' skull was used to express
the theme of rebirth as bone was presumed to be where the soul resided. The Sun Dance was an important part in
reconciliation of killing the buffalo, which violates the kinship
between animal and man.
After the conclusion of the ceremony the lodge
was abandoned and all animal objects left inside so they could return to
Kitokipaaskaan -The Prairie Chicken Dance
This is a very old dance still practiced by our people. It started out as a religious society known as the "Kiitokii Society".
The Prairie Chicken Dance has its origins in Blackfoot Country. During earlier times there were not many dances practiced by the Blackfoot with the exception of , ‘ Kais peh pi sini, ’ or ‘ Parted hair dance,’ and the ‘ Owl Dance,’ danced by men and women together. The Chicken Dance has its origin from the prairie chicken’s spring time mating dance. The regalia worn by the chicken dancers have not changed much. Old Style Chicken Dancers danced in one area displaying intricate body movements and dance steps. Their regalia included a head roach, breech cloth, round bells, and a small feather bustle.
The dance is done in mimicking the mating dance of the Prairie Chicken that we see in the prairies. This nature dance is seen in the early morning. When this dance is done at a celebration it is done as one of the many dances seen during many celebrations throughout Canada and USA.
How this dance came about was when a young man (Blackfoot) went out hunting. He came across these birds dancing in the tall grass. Being hungry as he was, he shot and killed one of these birds with his bow and arrow.
He brought the bird back home and his family ate it. Later on, as this man went to sleep he had this dream. In his dream the spirit of this prairie chicken that he killed came to him. Asked why he killed him. The man replied "I needed to feed my family".
The prairie chicken told this man that he was going to teach him this dance. He was to go out there and teach all the people this dance. If he did not do as he was told, this prairie chicken was going to come back and take this man's life. This was the deal this prairie chicken made with this man for taking his life (prairie chicken). It is a very sacred dance.
Was absorbed from the Assiniboin in the 1890s- Several stories about the beginnings of the grass dance are told. One tells of the grass dance coming from the movements of the early scouts seeking a site. The grass being high in new areas, the scouts would dance in a special way to flatten the grass and make it acceptable for a new camp or meeting site.
The grass dance movements also reflect warrior movements such as stalking the game or enemy and fighting the enemy (including one movement representing one of the warrior's legs being staked and unable to move and battling with this leg in a held position). The grass dance is often said to reflect the need for balance in life; each movement that is danced on one side must be repeated by the other side. Some people talk of the grass dance as a gift from the Creator to celebrate joy.
There is rich lore surrounding this dance. The regalia for the dance is comprised of long strands of yarn, ribbon or fabric attached to a base outfit to represent grass or in some theories the scalps of enemies. A headdress called a roach is worn. The roach has two feathers attached in such a way that they rock or twirl as the dancer moves. As in all the dances, the dancer must move with the beats of the drum ending with both feet on the ground on the final beat.
Social occasions, such as the Owl Dance, were fun times for people of all ages. People had the opportunity to relax, sing, dance, visit, and tell stories. It was at the Owl Dance where boys or young men could dance with girls they liked, under the watchful eyes of family members. Partners would stand side by side and with uniform shuffling steps, keep time to the drum beat, while dancing around a large circle. Girls or young women could also choose a dance partner for the Owl Dance. If a male refused a ladies offer to dance, he was required to pay her a gift.