July 2020
Spotlight Story
Sun Dance 2020

Surrounding Summer Solstice in June, Sun Dance is an important cultural ceremony central to the beliefs and customs primarily of the Indigenous People of the Great Northern Plains (including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Blackfoot and Sioux nations) (Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, 2011). This ceremony is performed to honour the sun, although the manner in which is honoured can be quite variable, and intimate and specific to the community or Nation on which it occurs (Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, 2011). Traditionally this ceremony occurred within a medicine lodge or outdoors on sacred land around a circular arbor surrounding a Sun Dance tree, and involved elements of singing, dancing, prayer, and in some cases, fasting and piercing. Many of these traditions are still seen in ceremonies today (World Council of Elders, 2017).
Photos and videos are not frequently permitted at Sun Dance as it is believed that when these are present that it can cause the spirit to leave. Although historical photographs and videos of this ceremony are rare, in the late 1950's the Kainaiwa Nation (of Alberta) permitted the filming of their Sun Dance in a film titled Circle of the Sun . More recently, in 2013, APTN National News was given the opportunity to film the Spucewoods Sun Dance ceremony in western Manitoba. It can be viewed here .
Like many other important cultural traditions to Indigenous communities, Sun Dance too has been met with discrimination and persecution from government and law enforcement. The Indian Act of 1885 banned a number of important Indigenous traditions, including Sun Dance (Gadacz, 2015). Unfortunately, by the time the Government of Canada had lifted the ban on Sun Dance in 1951, many traditional stories, music and dance were lost. Those that had tried to keep these customs alive prior to 1951 faced fines and imprisonment (Hoefnagels, 2020). More recently, in Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, about 90 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, RCMP officers arrived at a 35-person Sun Dance ceremony with the intention of breaking it up, citing a Sasketchewan public health ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. In an interview with the National Post, Chief Bobby Cameron advised that RCMP officers were not invited onto First Nations lands, and stated that public health orders did not supersede First Nations laws and treaties (The Canadian Press, 2020). Chief Cameron went on to say that although Pow Wows can be delayed, or done virtually, ceremonies such as Sun Dance cannot be delayed, and cannot be done online due to their connection to the land (The Canadian Press, 2020). Read more here.

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting numerous hurdles for Sun Dance ceremonies across Alberta and beyond, but these challenges are being felt even more sharply by Indigenous children and youth in (non-kinship) care. For children and youth who have lost many, if not all familial connections while in care, Sun Dance ceremonies have acted as an important moment of growth in their lives as it is typically the time when they would have their naming ceremony. Due to social distancing restrictions, many children and youth in care will be unable to attend these important cultural events.

So what can caregivers do to support cultural connection during this time? Tanya Ward-Schur, Community Facilitator at the Red Deer Urban Aboriginal Voices Society , has provided some helpful guidance and resources for this difficult time.

"There is grief this year because we cannot see everyone. Sun Dance involves a year of preparation, and you bring your biggest things to the Tree of Life and to The Creator. It involves youth finding their purpose, challenging themselves, and being with others" said Ward-Schur. "But as much as we love the ceremony, our ways are made so that we can always make that connection. The elements of the Sun Dance ceremony are the elements of the Smudge ceremony - fire, air, water and earth. The Creator is always listening to our prayers, whether in the middle of the city, in group care...even in the backyard we connect to nature and to the earth. We are dismembered right now, but when we come to the land, and when we smudge, we we re-member ourselves, and we can do that any time".

Ward-Schur reflected on a conversation she had had with her Elder, who reminded her that this has happened before, when ceremonies had been made illegal and "we are still here and the ceremonies aren't going anywhere, and this is not the worse thing that has happened to us - we will get past this".

Although nothing can truly replace Sun Dance, Ward-Schur suggested that during this difficult time it is critical that smudge ceremonies and prayers be made accessible to children and youth, and that caregivers should work to facilitate virtual connections between children and youth in their care, and community Elders. She also suggested some additional virtual resources that can be found in the Workshops, Programs, and Resources section, below.

One resource we will leave you with comes from the Pow wow Times YouTube Channel, which recently hosted a live stream of a Tuesday night practice with the Red Deer Aboriginal Dance Troupe . Subscribe to their channel for more content like this.
Workshops, Programs and Resources
The Red Deer Urban Aboriginal Voices Society hosts an Advisory Circle for Youth and Families. The UAVS Youth Circle operates within the Leadership Circle to provide a youth voice on community issues being addressed in the domain groups and at the Leadership Circle. They also frequently offer/collaborate on workshops and programming for Indigenous youth (currently virtually). Visit their website , or social media pages for more information.
On Saturday, July 26th, The Red Deer Aboriginal Dance Troupe will host and Men's vs Ladies Fancy Dance Special. Although this event will take place outdoors (at 4701 30th Street. Red Deer, Alberta), Pow wow Times and Red Deer Aboriginal Dance Troupe will be live streaming the event. Northern Cree with be the host drum.
Join Sarah Wild and Small on Instagram at @sarahwildndsmall as she shares some excellent youth-oriented creative workshops and tutorials, interviews Indigenous influencers and creative leaders from across the country, and discusses some important topics impacting today's Indigenous youth.
TikTok has enabled the sharing of culture and creativity across the globe and Indigenous youth are using it as a powerful source of connection. Check out this recent article in canadianart about its influence.
All My Relations is an 11-12 week program. It covers the five modules from the existing Supporting Father Involvement program (The Individual, The Parent - Child Relationship, The Couple Relationship, Four Generations and The Community), while also adding in many new, culturally-relevant videos and activities. Traditional teachings, and addressing historical trauma that highlights how colonization has affected families and parenting styles are both important discussion points of the program. The name All My Relations is inclusive with the many dynamics of family structures we have today, as well as, including the land and environment. Programming begins in the Fall. Check out next month's issue of Connections for a Spotlight Story on All My Relations, and its facilitator, Michelle Eagle Tail Feathers.
Professional Development and Advocacy
This workshop will be a monthly, recurring event with each month highlighting a different topic. In the next session, on August 7th, Beverly Keeshig-Soonias (MSC, LLB) will focus on family wellness in uncertain times. All are welcome. Register here
The Child Welfare League of Canada is looking for a Learning Community Activator. The Learning Community Activator will play a pivotal role in a small, dynamic team, working closely with CWLC’s Executive Director and the community’s youth mentors, Elders and Indigenous Child and Family Committee to help organizations re-examine, re-imagine and shift their child welfare policies and practices. Interested? Learn more here .