Ceremonies of Coming Maturity
The sacred exists; it has its own quality. The summer ceremonial season is
upon us, from Sun Dances to Green Corn Dances to Snake and New Moon Dances,
to the many pow wows of the Indian trail, each has its meaning and degree
Approach and purpose are central to ceremony. At this time of year, many
Native people genuinely partake of and put through numerous spiritual
ceremonies, both at private homes and at public places of prayer, at
mountain altars and near water places, ceremonies where all life and many
revered entities are celebrated and prayed over.
It is the season of early maturity. We are told to remember the sun, the
waters, the earth, the winds. We give thanks to these and many beings,
these elements that hold up our lives. Many Indian people will dance and
celebrate in these ways this summer - thanking and spiritually caressing
our natural relatives, from hummingbird to buffalo, from eagle to prairie
dog to dung beetle - all must be thanked. Prayers are made at this time for
the little ones - may they reach maturity with the strength of the summer
heat, with the gift of abundance.
In South Dakota, we salute this summer the record of 500 Oglala gardens
assisted by the Running Strong for American Indian Youth program. This
resounding effort helps people make better use of their lands, rejuvenating
dozens of old family homesteads. The crews put in wells, prepare gardens,
help repair elders' homes - they stress nutrition, sobriety, and at this
time of year, Sun Dance. Three tiospayes come together for this dance that
celebrates life. The sacred tree goes up again, pledged dancers dance,
drummers drum and singers sing and firekeepers take care of fire while
others sweat and pray. All over the Northern and Southern Plains, Sun
Dances are held, families gather, tribes reaffirm themselves. It happens in
this way all over as ceremonies of many kinds unfold throughout this season
of maturing plants, animals and humans. Northeast, Northwest, Southwest,
Southeast, all over, people pray over fish, sing over crops, stomp the
ground, give thanks and plead for respect and attention to the human being,
lamenting over our own pitiful needs even as we appreciate all we have and
enjoy of life. A Pueblo friend wrote recently, announcing their upcoming
"Feast Days." In Oklahoma you will run into Green Corn Dances and in
Arizona Hopi runners go for long miles, mesa to mesa, while farther south,
peyotists fast for visions of their elusive sacred cactus.
In summer, the herbalists pick many herbs. They leave tobacco for that, and
burn with it. Summer solstice altars abound, north and south, nature is
joined by the thousands, feathers floating from the crowns of dancers,
feathers and staffs and drums in the open air, on the sacred mountain, at
the sacred river, at the tree of life, whistles blowing at the hummingbird
As the corn fattens, Indian people give thanks. As the sun's heat blends
with the dew of valleys and fields, Indian people give thanks. Tobacco,
copal, cedar, sage and sweet-grass burn through longhouse and tipi hole,
and from the depth of kiva to the mountain top, this summer season, as they
have from time immemorial, Indian peoples will pray for and with the Mother
Earth, with the Grandfather Sun, the Grandmother Moon, one more time they
will do this, so that the cycles of continuous creation will, indeed,
Writes Vine Deloria Jr., in his "Spirit and Reason: the Vine Deloria Jr.
Reader" (Fulcrum Books, 1999), "In ceremonies the object is to draw into
participation all the powerful elements of the cosmos."
No human law, no international or national law, can stop the sincere
expression of thanksgiving that is the common duty of tribal humanity in
the Americas. It is essential that such a responsibility be met and it is.
This is the duty and the privilege of Native America, and in this early
summer of 2004, we are pleased to report that indeed the tribes continue to
hold up their covenant with the Earth. May it always be so.