'Rain Dance, 1920' from archives of Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Potawatomi Agency.

Do You Still Do the Rain Dance, and Does It Work?

Sonny Skyhawk

Dance and prayer have always been part of our people's way. During the course of the year, our people hold many cultural celebrations, either to pay homage to someone, celebrate rights of passage or just to get together and renew old friendships. In the old days people would gather to celebrate new life, a new season or a new moon and so on. We have always been spiritual people, and being raised with certain beliefs and values, well, we became accustomed to giving thanks to the Creator for what good things were given to us by him. As an adult, I have learned that there are many ways in which spirituality naturally becomes part of your life, without you even knowing it.

Getting back to celebrations, yes, we had special dances that paid homage to certain things and especially the seasons, and yes, we prayed for rain and sometimes we had dances that wished rain on our corn fields or crops, as well as on our tribal enemies When our warriors or medicine people painted our horses for battle, they painted their rumps with rain drops so as to wish rain on the enemy, or for rain to wash away our tracks when we went to raid or “acquire” horses from other tribes. Water has always been considered equal to medicine amongst our people, mainly because without it , we cease to survive as humans. Water has healing and life giving qualities also, that is why when someone has had a traumatic experience, people always ask for water. It has many other uses, but to our people it meant life.

The main reason we prayed and danced for rain was for the cleansing and renewal qualities it brought with it. We also knew that rain allowed new grasses to grow that fed our horses and allowed the abundance of our brother, the buffalo, and other game. When we danced we asked the Creator and prayed in our own way for the well being of our people, and our relatives. The original lifestyles of our people have always included and taught prayer,

I was given an Indian name, Tawapaha Wakan (Sacred Staff), at an early age, by an honored Chief of the Sicangu Lakota tribe, Sam White Horse, and his wife Nancy White Horse. Sam counseled me prior to honoring and giving me that name, and explained what it meant. He asked that I always remain humble and compassionate towards others , but most importantly, and what I remember most, was his wish that I always give thanks in prayer to the Creator, and that I always include my people, in that prayer. I have never forgotten his wish, and to this day, I have always prayed for our people, our elders, those who are sick and those in harms way.

So, if we danced or prayed for rain, it was always for a reason. Recently, during the ski season, the managers of a ski resort in Park City, Utah, invited a group of Uintah Dancers to perform a dance that would hopefully bring much needed snow to their bare resort . They danced, and the next day it snowed, and it kept snowing for three days. Who is to judge the power of prayer or belief? As the Native people of this land, we are accustomed to prayer and certain beliefs and traditions, and dancing for rain has been and remains to this day, one of our traditions. We daily give thanks to our Creator and our Ancestors, for having gifted us with those beautiful beliefs and traditions.


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cxyomama-c's picture
Submitted by cxyomama-c on
Good goin, Sonny, I love Ask An NDN!! Keep up the good work & WRITE ON!!

hesutu's picture
Submitted by hesutu on
Wonderful article. Whether or not our prayers and dances influence rain spirits, our general perspective is to be thankful, appreciative and aware of our dependence on a healthy and functional earth. As to whether our "unscientific" pagan practices work, I've seen and experienced far too many weird wonderful and mysterious things to be so foolish as to say our traditions practices and perspectives are superstitions in any way. Many of the christians who criticize and judge our practices believe they must eat the flesh and drink the blood of their god while waging eternal genocide upon "enemies" of their faith. These same persons look down on us because we are thankful and appreciative of what nature provides us with, and aware of our dependence of it. They call us names, cluck their tongues and grab their guns when they see us sing, when we dance, and when we pray. In the past our practices were criminalized, punished; we were tortured and executed. The history of the europeans is not filled with good things, nor is their culture sustainable or stable.