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Sweatlodge & Sundance
SweatLodge(ih-tsee skahn), Sundance(Naatosi Okahn),Pipe carrier(Oomah-ow-wahdoo-wahp-seewa) - when you hear these words, they will most likely conjure up thoughts or maybe impressions of what you have heard, read or maybe even experienced.

I will talk about these in the context of Blackfoot spirituality, specifically how they have bearing on a person becoming a piercing sundancer.*

All three are separate experiences, yet all are needed as individual building blocks(or foundations), brought together to help an individual in and on his/her path to helping people.

If you have chosen(or some say...been called) to pursue the path(red road) of a piercing sundancer, a major step will be to make a commitment to all that is necessary in becoming a sundancer. This is not a part time experience as perhaps attending church once a week. This affects your life, your being, every minute of every day. This commitment should not be taken lightly by you...it will not be taken lightly by the spirits. Once your commitment has been made, you should get involved with a sweatlodge, preferably a lodge lead by a Blackfoot Sundance Leader. If you plan on dancing at any particular sundance, then please seek out a sundance leader from that group. You may find that by preparing with one group and taking part in a dance lead by another group will be very difficult...different to say the least.

I can not or should I say will not go into how a sweatlodge is made at this time. The sweatlodge, its location, the fire, the stones - all have special meaning. This you will learn in time. Be patient and pay attention to what is said around you and in what context it is said.

A sweatlodge that is run by a sundance leader is quite different than almost any other sweatlodge - even among the Blackfoot. In preparing for the sundance you should try to attend at least one sweat a month for an entire year. In that years time you should also take part in two preparation fasts(one in the fall and one in the spring), lead also by a sundance leader. Sometimes more than a years preparation time is needed, you will know, believe me. Do not try to push yourself, let your experiences come naturally. The more and harder you push the more difficult the experiences will appear.

The sweatlodge will cleanse you of all the baggage you will be bringing with you. Once cleansed, you will find it difficult to stay this way. That is the reason you should attend as may sweats as possible. It is for your benefit that I say this. In the sweatlodge you will learn specific songs, along with how to eliminate ego and judgment from your life. You will also learn how to welcome being humble in to your life.

If you do not wish or can not remove ego and judgment from your life, I strongly suggest that you pursue another path to spirituality, for the sundance way will be very difficult, often times very painful for you and other participants around you. You will learn the reason why I say this at a later time.

The fasts I have previously mentioned are in preparation for the sundance. You will be asked to go four days without food and water. The exact length of time is set out by the sundance leader. The major difference between the preparation fasts and the sundance is that at the sundance you will be combining fasting and dancing for the four days. More about that later.

If at the end of the first year of preparation sweats and fasts, you still find your visits to the sweat lodge uncomfortable in various ways, then please do not attempt to take part as a dancer in the sundance. You can not only hurt yourself but the other dancers that are dancing with you.

*The Blackfoot piercing sundance takes place in the summer months, usually from the beginning of July through the end of August. On the Kainai reserve there are five piercing sundances that take place each year on different weekends.

The piercing sundance is so named because it is obligatory to pierce at least once during the four day period that you will be dancing. Some dancers will pierce two or even three times during this four day period. You will find more about this in your preparation period. There are somethings you will only find out about while you are dancing.

There can be varying reasons for a person to dance. The most common is the dancer is there to help other people, to get them over hurdles(situations) that those people find almost impossible to get over. If you choose to remain a sundancer, then that will probably be your main reason for dancing, you dance for other people because they can not - for whatever reason. You are to always be there for the people. You will be acting as their lightning rod as well as their support. You will find out more about this as you journey along the sundance path.

There is no time limit in becoming a sundancer. No final exam. No graduation. It is a continuious journey. You might even say, an ever lasting apprenticeship. The first time frame may be at least four years, maybe more. You will be constantly learning and progressing. This progress is based upon your day to day experiences and how you handle them. Being a sundancer is a full time commitment, 24 hours a day, every day. There are individuals that have spent fourteen plus years trying to learn the sundance ways. There is no cram course or short cut to achieve the spirituality which you are searching for.

Upon the last day of your first year sundancing, once you have broken from the tree, you will experience a feeling you have never felt before. That is the moment that you will start preparing yourself for the next years sundance.

During the preparation time and just prior to the sundance, if all goes well, you will be gifted a pipe. What, when, how, why, where - are questions you will have, they will be answered at the appropiate time. Listen to your instructions very carefully, you may only be told once. Oral tradition limits me on what I can tell you about being a pipe carrier. I will warn you, if you have not been able to let go of your ego and judgment by now, DO NOT TAKE UP THE PIPE please!!!

There are other tribes and clans of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Their sweatlodges, songs and sundances may vary from what I have described above. The above named sundance leader is Keith Chiefmoon,Issoitapi Clan of the Kainai(Blood Tribe).

If you are just wondering could this life be for you, may I suggest that you volunteer to be a helper in the sundance encampment for the eight to ten days of preparation and dancing. Then perhaps that time may answer some of your questions. It ususally does. Once you have done this, you may well understand how very important these helpers are to the dancers.

Earlier I mentioned that you would be fasting and dancing for four days. The days usually start prior to sun rise and go to sunset. How long you will dance is up to the sundance leader, but twelve to fourteen hours is not uncommon.
Comunicating With The Spirits
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