The Sun Dance, also called Rain or Thirst Dance, is a sacred ceremony of First Nations peoples who live in the grasslands of Saskatchewan. The host can use any one of the three names, depending upon the reason for doing the ceremony. This ceremony, which lasts from four to eight days, can take place from early spring to mid-summer. The participants usually begin with the Sweat-lodge Ceremony, and gather to celebrate the renewal of life, good growing seasons, a safe community, good health, and so on. The Sun Dance lodge is built in a circle with the entry facing east, signifying the coming of light. Prior to this, the host will have chosen the centre pole, and a selected group of males will bring the pole to the site where the ceremony is to be held. The pole is not allowed to touch the ground until it is placed standing in the centre of the lodge. At the top of it sits the Thunderbird nest, for it is the Sacred Thunderbird as represented by the mighty Eagle who is the messenger for prayers sent to the Great Mystery. The host and the participant dancers continue to dance in shifts for several days, while stepping to the beat of the drum and saying prayers which are carried to the Creator. This sacred ceremony is one method for traditional Plains Indians to reaffirm their belief in their sacred ways. The bison is honoured during this ceremony by the placing of specific parts of its body at the base of the centre pole; in some ceremonies, a bison robe may be placed inside the lodge to indicate the host’s honoured spot. During the actual dance, the participating dancers will always face the centre pole with their eyes on the Thunderbird nest; they will continue until dusk of the final day, dancing and saying prayers for the good of family, community, and Mother Earth. At the end of this ceremony, people may pledge to host another Sun Dance some other time. Once the ceremony is over, the participants will leave the site and have a traditional feast.

William Asikinack