The Lakota Sioux Dance: An Immersion Experience
I have always been intrigued by the Native American Culture but I have never had the opportunity to explore and learn more about it. I decided to go to a Native American Dance performed by the Lakota Sioux. They are an Indian tribe located in the Western United States. Before attending this event I made a list of questions and unclear information that I had about Native Americans and I also tried to think of some of the Characteristics of Native American culture. I asked a few questions to a member of the audience sitting next to me and I also was fascinated by the performance.
Before attending the concert I had many preconceptions of Native American dance and religion. I knew that they worshiped gods and that they had a high regard for nature but I really didn't know why. I thought that all Native Americans dressed alike and they had disregard for women. I thought that they considered the women to be servants and obedient but I found this untrue. Basically, the image that I held about Native Americans came from movies and television shows that I had watched previously. I felt a little nervous when I was walking into the performance because I had never been surrounded by a different and strange culture. I had some questions in mind before I attended the performance: What gods do they worship? Are their ceremonies just dancing, and singing? What does their native language sound like? Do they still speak that language today? What is the most important aspect of their culture? Do they do dances to call on the spirits or do they have different dances for different prayers? Some of my questions sounded silly but after the performance I could answer and understand the culture. I had a true appreciation and a deeper understanding of the Lakota Sioux culture.
When I entered the performance I chose a seat close to the stage. I wanted to get the full experience. The Lakota Sioux Dance was a dance performance that told the creation of the Lakota people, it also told the death and rebirth process that occurred in their cultural history. A storyteller narrated accompanied by a flute, drums, and two singers. Their dress was very traditional but they were all dressed differently. The men had on much more ornate and elaborate costumes while the women had more simple costumes. The costumes were made of feathers, bells, and bright colors. Some had an Eagle printed on the back of their shirts. They all wore headdresses. The men wore large ones decorated with feathers all around it while the women wore small headbands with feathers. They all wore moccasins and the costumes had bells that coincided with the music and dance. The Lakota Sioux have a high regard for women and see the earth as sacred. They believe that the woman was created first and she was created to be symbolic of mother earth. She gives life and nourishment and represents the universe. Man was created to then be with the woman to create life. They call on elon the god of creation. They see women as the "Holy ones" and honor them through love songs because they keep the Lakota Sioux families strong and together. They also honor the buffalo because they give their people food shelter, clothing, and tools. The white hunter killed them but their spirit still remains to help them survive. The stars are also honored because they represent us when we die. They believe they are their relatives who send them energy and bring the daylight. The death of the Lakota people happened when the white people put them on reservations. Their belief is that mother earth gave them chances to rebuild their nation and when they did not listen she opened the ground, invited them to come in, and swallowed them. A trickster tricked them to come to the surface in a cave located in the Black Hills, to live again. The Black Hills are the secret mountains and sacred to the Lakota people. In a book about Native American people it states, "Native Americans do not worship the land; they see the land as an expression of the Creator. Treating the earth with the same respect and love that a person shows his or her mother is a way of giving thanks to the Creator for the gift of being alive" (Griffin-Pierce 9). This was very evident during this event and it cleared up my misconception of them worshiping the earth. They carried the skull of a buffalo around the stage during one of the dances. They hold the buffalo in their highest respect and have high respect for the eagle because it carries their prayers to the gods. All of these beliefs and these practices are so central to their culture. I learned so much from watching and listening to the dancers tell their story.
These dances give thanks to creation and they involve a great deal of emotion. Expression is in the form of body movement. The whole body is involved and incense and pipes are used during the dances to call on the spirits. They believe that war comes within and involves good vs. evil. Their faces and music during the performance was powerful and moving. It captivated me. Throughout this event I found myself intensely involved in what was going on around me. It gave me a deeper respect for all the hardships that the Native American people have encountered. It also gave me new meaning for how a group of people can have such a deep respect for the earth and for their culture. I found it powerful and moving and I thought that it was a great expression of their ethnicity and culture. "Ethnicity carries a strong sense of "peoplehood"-that is, of loyalty to a "community of memory" (cushner 72). It is very definite that these people have a strong ethnicity and sense of community and loyalty, even though today their people are a minority and they live on reservations. They are trying to make people aware of their culture. I talked to a few people briefly before the concert began and they told me that these were their people and they were coming to see and take part in their culture. One woman told me that some of her relatives still live on the reservations today. There was a strong sense of togetherness between all the Native American people in the audience. When they sang their national anthem, the carried the Eagle staff which is their national flag, and everyone stood to give honor to the flag.
I now feel comfortable and more informed about the Lakota culture. At one point in the performance I felt my heart racing and I was sitting on the edge of my seat. I really felt like I was partaking in the dance. It was a great learning experience and had a dramatic effect on how I now perceive Native Americans. I have a deeper respect and now I feel comfortable and more knowledgeable about a different culture in which I had no previous knowledge. I am more sensitive to how emotional and respectful their dances are and how they honor their religion. One way that I could learn more about the Lakota Sioux is to contact the Native American Organization on campus and even visit a reservation at some point in my life. It was truly interesting and I learned a great deal from these people. I feel that I am more aware and I had a good immersion experience.
Cushner, K., McClelland, A., Safford, P. (2000). Human diversity in education: An integrative approach. Boston, McGraw-Hill.
Griffin-Pierce, Trudy. (1995). The encyclopedia of Native America. New York, Penguin Books.