Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children (Media and the Great Debate)

A controversy has erupted in Manitoba. The first time since the 1960s a Sundance ceremony has been recorded. There have been many negative and positive comments about this. APTN the Canadian National Aboriginal TV Network did a three part mini series in June 2013. What are some of the reasons against or for sharing the Sundance ceremony?
At the end of the Sundance with my boys

In the 19th century up until the mid 20th century many of the traditional ceremonies were recorded both in word, but visually with photos and later in video. Many of those doing this recording were anthropologists, Indianophiles and in the 1950s and 60s Indigenous peoples themselves. There was a tendency after the 1900s to start hiding the ceremonies because religious officials and government agents would take children during the ceremonies and they had been declared illegal both in Canada and the United States

To see the video

The 1895 amendment of the Canadian Indian Act (Section 114) criminalized many Aboriginal ceremonies, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of numerous Aboriginal people for practising their basic traditions. These arrests were based on Aboriginal participation in festivals, dances and ceremonies that involved the wounding of animals or humans, or the giving away of money or goods. The Dakota people (Sioux) who settled in Oak River, Manitoba, in 1875 were known to conduct "give-away dances", also known as the "grass dance". The dance ceremony involved the giving away and exchange of blankets and horses; thus it breached Section 114 of the Indian Act. As a result, Wanduta, an elder of the Dakota community, was sentenced to four months of hard labour and imprisonment on January 26, 1903.

According to Canadian historian Constance Backhouse, the Aboriginal "give-away dances" were ceremonies more commonly known as potlatches that connected entire communities politically, economically and socially. These dances affirmed kinship ties, provided elders with opportunities to pass on insight, legends and history to the next generation, and were a core part of Aboriginal resistance to assimilation. It is estimated that between 1900 and 1904, 50 Aboriginal people were arrested and 20 were convicted for their involvement in such dances. The Indian Act was amended in 1951 to allow all religious ceremonies.

There is a modern belief that these ceremonies should not be shared, but was this always the case? Recording devises are new and 100 years ago this would not have been a concern. There are hundreds of reports made by anthropologists that indicate that this ceremony had been well documented and was open to any who wished to join. Perhaps the question that should be asked is what can be gained by using media to reveal the Sundance today. There are too many young people who are cut off from any tradition. This lack of cultural foundation affects everyone. When we see 10 000 children in the care of Child Welfare in just Manitoba we know that eventually this will affect another 13 000 children in another generation. It is a growing problem this lack of parenting and capacity to love.

I obtained the 13 000 potential children in care by using fertility rates. They remain higher for Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women. In the 1996 to 2001 period, the fertility rate of Aboriginal women was 2.6 children, that is, they could expect to have that many children, on average, over the course of their lifetime; this compared with a figure of 1.5 among all Canadian women. In the same period, the fertility rate for Inuit women was estimated to be 3.4 children, compared with rates of 2.9 children for First Nations women and 2.2 for Métis women (Statscanada, 2013).

My point is that there is a growing underclass of Aboriginal youth who need these teachings because they cannot get it from the goverenement, foster families, their parents or even their families, because when you don’t know, you don’t know. How do you connect with all these Indigenous peoples who also deserve to have access to their traditions? The people who are currently taking part in the ceremonies have either been born into the tradition; they actively went looking for it because they needed it or because someone by a chance meeting introduced them to it. This ignores the mass of people who deserve to have access to their history.

I dream of a day when all Indigenous children will know the culture of their ancestors and have the opportunity to pass it along to their children. Then perhaps we won’t have so many children in Child Welfare. If David Blacksmith says he received a vision to share the Sundance with those who cannot be reached in usual manners then who am I to judge. David Blacksmith said that many of the traditional peoples who hold the teaching will not always be here. They will be fewer in number due to government policies and simple economics. It is tough to keep ceremony; the socio-economic lifestyle is tough. I have never seen a Sundance chief in a mansion. They make sacrifices that many are not following.

Traditions often change; I still meet Elders who say that women should never drum that this is a domain of men. Where are many of the men in the community; they have disappeared and forsaken their responsibilities? Those roles of healing have been filled by strong women. They have taken the drum and are using it to call their families and community to the spirit.

I personally feel it is time to break down the walls that divides the haves from the have nots of access to traditions. While some many say they should just ask and Elder, many are too shy and embarrassed to ask. They don’t want to seen ignorant and they are ashamed they don’t know.  This is away of giving them courage to eventually ask.

I would like to note that I am biased on this subject. I proudly dance the Sundance with David Blacksmith. I have thought long and hard about why but it is important and we can no longer hide from all the indigenous youth our wonderful traditions, their birthright.

To Learn more
Video of the Beautiful Sundance by APTN
Part I

Part II

Part III


  1. Everyone needs a past. So much of who we are comes from our parents and our grandparents; the traditions and customs they pass on to us, to carry-on. I could not imagine not knowing where I came from, who my parents are or a Sunday without Sunday Supper at my grandma’s house. Every week all of my aunts, uncles and cousins gather at grandma’s house to build a real sense to the word “family” and have a meal unlike nothing you’ve ever tasted. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if someone could see us, if they filmed one of our dinners. Then I realized that we’d probably be locked up because my family is nuts. All the insider jokes and marathon mini sticks games just would not be funny to anyone but my family because this is our story, our past. This is why I do not disagree with recording a Sundance. I think there is something to be said for trying to reach a larger population to further reinforce the need for community and traditions. However, like with my Sunday Suppers, you need to be there, to immerse yourself with the stories and the culture because there is only so much you can absorb through a TV screen. The video would be a great medium by which to reach a large number of people but the next step would to actually experience a Sundance. To offer a shuttle service for anyone who wished to come, or reduced rates for first timers or even mini dances at local community centres to generate more awareness. Technology is not going away, but traditions will unless we find a way to preserve them even in the most artificial sense, like a video. Traditions are a part of us, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, we all have a duty to our parents and grandparents, to continue what they started because without a past, you have no future.

  2. Although I am not an Aboriginal person, nor am I particularly religious in any way, I found this blog post to be very upsetting. I am not very educated on the topic of Sun Dance ceremonies but I feel that if it’s important to Indigenous peoples, then they should be allowed to participate in them. Whether it is through actually being present at the ceremony, or through videos or photos when it’s not possible to physically present at the ceremony for whatever reason; every person ought to be allowed to participate. I agree with your statement of: “I personally feel it is time to break down the walls that divides the haves from the have nots of access to traditions.” (The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children (Media and the Great Debate)). Everybody deserves the right to actively participate in their cultural or religious practices, whatever they may be. It is very important for young children to know about their family history and through ceremonies such as Sun Dance; youth will be able to experience teachings and learn more about their ancestors. Why is it that these ceremonies are looked down upon? Shouldn’t all individuals be given the right to express themselves through their cultural practices?

    I don’t fully understand why it would be a negative thing to record the Sun Dance ceremonies, in my opinion; the benefits of it definitely outweigh the losses. The people who are not able to attend the ceremony f would still be able to learn about their ancestors as well as their culture; which is incredibly important. “I dream of a day when all Indigenous children will know the culture of their ancestors and have the opportunity to pass it along to their children.” (The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children (Media and the Great Debate)). This statement made me see more clearly how important it is for Aboriginal peoples to know about their culture and ancestors.

    I guess I would need more information on the whole situation, but with what I know right now; I believe that the Sundance ceremonies should be available to everybody who wants to participate in them.

  3. Reading “The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children” got me very interested in learning more about the Sundance. I watched “The Sundance Ceremony” and was fascinated by what I learned. What stood out the most to me in the documentary was the sharing of a man who explained the respect he was taught through the Sundance: “The Sundance was explained to me as a way to honour our woman because they give their flesh and their blood when they give us our life” (2013). Even though, I have seen the Sundance before, I have never known about the deep respect and spiritual aspect of it.

    I can understand why the Sundance was previously not shared over the media for privacy, legal and security reasons. However, I am glad to hear that the Sundance is now accessible to be viewed over the media as it allows many more people to connect and learn from their culture and spirituality. The documentary shared great support for sharing the Sundance through media and technology: “The only way that we're going to be able to tell a lot of people about this is through the media so people know that it's not a bad thing to do, it's a beautiful thing to do” (2013). The documentary shared a good point by stating that if it wasn't for technology, many youth would not have access to learning about their culture and spirituality. Technology allows many people to easily have access to what otherwise might not be accessible to them: “If the youth can't come to the ceremonies, might as well bring the ceremonies to them using technology” (The Sundance Ceremony, 2013).

    This documentary helped me realize that I could incorporate First Nations culture into my future classrooms through technology. If media is a way through which First Nations teachings, culture, and spirituality can be taught and learned, I believe it's a great resource to be used to promote and encourage the practice of such a great and sacred culture.

    The Sundance Ceremony (2013)

  4. After hearing about The Sundance debate in class I was inclined to explore the issue a little further. As a non-Indigenous individual my immediate reaction was anger that Chief Blacksmith was receiving so much criticism for attempting to share the traditions of The Sundance. I strongly agree with your statement “I personally feel it is time to break down the walls that divides the haves from the have nots of access to traditions.” I believe it is important for everyone to have the right to actively participate in their traditions and exercise their believes. Unfortunately there are an increasing number of individuals unable to engage in these traditions. I feel by not allowing this ceremony to be accessible to those unable to attend would only further strip them of their cultural identity.

    Now some may argue that by airing this on the National News and allowing anyone to view the video is breaking the protocol, as even photos are not permitted. Perhaps others may argue that is was not Chief Blacksmiths place to invite ATPN without the consent of the community. (Filming Sundance)

    As a future educator I have a slightly different take on the situation. Having watched a few minutes of the video clip shared in class I felt I had already learnt more about the culture than I had not been exposed to previously. The respect the Aboriginal people display in the video is evident as they sacrifice their food water and as well a little suffering. Many Aboriginal people did not or do not know of their ceremonies because it was beaten out of their ancestors. By simply being able to watch and observe the ceremony it is one step forward in learning the values and traditions of their culture. (The Sundance Ceremony, 2013)

    In addition, as an individual who may never be able to experience the ceremony, I feel as though I am better to relate to my students who have grown up with these traditions. By being able to show videos such as these to my students I feel I would be able to more effectively teach all students about the values and traditions of the Aboriginal culture.

    (September 14, 2013). The Sundance Ceremony. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from

    Gonzaga, K. Filming Sundance: Tradition, Technology, and Journalism Collide Last Real Indians. Retrieved February 1, 2014, from

  5. This blog post refers to the fact that there has been recent controversy over the filming of a Sundance ceremony for the first time since the 1960s (Ouellette, 2013). I believe that every child has the right to learn about their family history, culture, and traditions and that learning about them through visual videos can be very beneficial. Children are extremely curious and constantly asking so many questions about the world around them. As they get older, they begin to wonder where they came from, why they are here, and why they participate in certain events. I think that as teachers, we need to be able to foster this curiosity in our students and provide them with the ability to ask the important questions. However, we do not know everything about our students’ history and beliefs, which means that in order to provide our students with answers to their questions we need to ask the main source; the family. I think this relates back to the idea of establishing relationships with families and the school community. Through the development of these relations, we are better able to communicate with a family that their child has questions about their history and traditions. I think that students should be allowed to participate in their own traditions outside of school. This is a freedom that should be accepted, as long as no one is harmed, or laws are broken. I am glad to hear that the Indian act was amended to allow all religious ceremonies (Ouellette, 2013). This subsequently allows students of Aboriginal culture to learn about their traditions. I think that as teachers we should include culture in our classroom life. Since our students are so curious, we should provide them with the opportunity to learn about many cultures and the traditions that they may not otherwise encounter. Teachers need to be aware that we should not only teach our own beliefs and values to our students, but instead teach our students to be critical thinkers and develop their own beliefs. By offering many opportunities to learn about various cultures, we are allowing our students to develop their own beliefs and gain an understanding that not all cultures are the same.

    Falcon-Ouellette, R. (2013). The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children (Media and the Great Debate). Retrieved from:

  6. Aboriginal Education: Blog #4
    The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children
    Submitted on February 4th, 2014
    Written by Sarah Hawley

    The blog entry that I have decided to comment on for Blog #4 is entitled, “The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children” which discusses the historical background and controversial sharing of Sun Dance rituals. There is an ongoing debate surrounding the release of information and footage of traditional Sun Dances because in the past there have been criminal consequences for participation in the ceremony. Therefore, the celebrations and teachings associated with the Sun Dance have historically been passed down orally, not documented with video recordings. This is an attempt to protect the cultural importance of the Sun Dance ceremony, which is an essential component of Aboriginal communities and social, physical, and emotional health. In 1951 the Indian Act was amended to allow for all religious ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, which gave Indigenous peoples the opportunity to openly participate without fear of adverse consequences (Ouellette, 2013). In time, this led to public sharing of the Sun Dance on the APTN TV network in June of 2013 (Ouellette, 2013).

    I agree with the public broadcasting of the Sun Dance ceremony because it enables children and Aboriginal people to gain access to traditional rituals, if they are not necessarily able to attend in person. For example, the blog entry discusses the disconnection that is present in today’s society between Aboriginal youth and traditional, cultural practices (Ouellette, 2013). This results in an erosion of culture and youth may feel as though they have lost their indigenous identity and the understanding of what that encompasses. Further, if educators are able to gain access to ceremonies such as the Sun Dance, they can incorporate this perspective into instruction. This expands students’ knowledge about Manitoba history, the current Aboriginal population in the province, and it celebrates and acknowledges the customs of the culture. According to Young, Levin, & Wallin (2008), children within the Canadian public school system experience adverse effects on educational attainment when educators and administrators develop curriculum and instruction from a mainstream approach. This method focuses more on assimilation and a standard creation of curriculum across the province. There must be instruction from a culturally responsive perspective that celebrates cultural diversity and provides meaningful learning opportunities about the various backgrounds present within the culture (Young et. al, 2008). All students learn differently, bring varying life experiences, have ranging curiosities, and approach education from different perspectives. It is important as an educator, to embrace this and enrich the cultural diversity within the classroom.


    Ouellette, Robert-Falcon. (2008). The Sun Dance: Connecting with the Children. At the Edge of Canada. Retrieved from connecting-with-children.html#more

    Young J., Levin B., Wallin D. (2008). Understanding Canadian Schools: An Introduction to Canadian Administration. Nelson Education: Winnipeg.

  7. After being a part of our class discussion on the Sun Dance, I had an increased interest on the topic. The video showed what immense commitment and respect Aboriginal people have for their cultural beliefs, which was truly inspiring. After reading this article, I strongly believe that having the ceremony recorded is very positive thing. It is important for people to know where they come from and know who they are, but not everybody is fortunate enough to have family who shares this information with them. If an Aboriginal youth who has no exposure to Aboriginal culture sees the Sun Dance video it might spark his interest. If the video aspires one young person to look into their culture I think it is a success.
    I am of Icelandic descent, and grew up in a small primarily Icelandic community. Every spring there is a “coming of spring” celebration at our town hall (I do not know the correct Icelandic spelling of the celebrations name). Growing up I always attended this celebration with my family. Even though it is only once a year, it is important to our family to attend and be immersed in our cultural background.
    After reflecting on the cultural celebration that I have been apart of my entire life, I definitely see the importance of being exposed to one’s culture. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to this celebration with my family, but for those who are not it would be great to have a video to watch. Even if a person decides not to further pursue their cultural beliefs or activities, I believe it is a good thing to be exposed to them.


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