Well boys and girls we are smack dab in the middle of summer. The 4th of July and the Major League All Star Games have always been my personal zenith of the warm season rather than the celestial gyrations of the Gregorian calendar that posits the true day as June 21. All that is neither here nor there, what is truly important is this is the time of the year we get to BBQ.
Well ok, even more important than a good rack of ribs and potato salad it is ceremonial season for many tribes. Additionally, the pow wow trail is in full swing.
Locally it is time for Brush Dances to heal a sick child or bless a child for a long and healthy life. Every weekend from the middle of June to late August has the Hupa, Karuk or Yurok tribe hosting the community for this four-day ceremony. Brush Dance
The young woman coming of age ceremony called the Flower Dance is also held during this time. The girl who is being celebrated shows that she is learning the skills that she needs to know about being a woman strong in her culture and ready to take the next steps into adulthood. Flower Dance
This is also time for the more sacred of our ceremonies, the Jump Dance, the White Deerskin Dance and the Karuk Pik Yavish. These 10-day dances (and another 10 days in isolation) are world renewal ceremonies held to restore balance for what we have taken out of the world, food, basket materials, wood for houses or fires. It is part of our responsibilities as stewards of the environment. The Pik Yavish is also the time of Irahiv, the new year. Jump Dance Head DressFix The Earth Dances
It is also time to perform the Lakota Wiwanke Wachipi or Sun Dance. This is also a time for the people, family’s, tribe and Mother Earth to be renewed. The dancers undergo both a physical and spiritual test that is part of a sacred sacrifice for the benefit of the community. Sun Dance
The Hopi hold the Niman ceremony during the summer months. It is filled with feasts and dances. This is the time the Holy Katchinas return to their homes in the spirit world. The Hemis Katchina is associated with this ceremony and represents happiness for a good harvest. Niman Ceremony
The Tohono O'odham Wine ceremony is held during the searing heat of the summer. It is a sacred rite to summon the clouds and bring rain to the arid land for the benefit of the people. I’itoi, the creator, gifted this ceremony to the people so they would know that the rains would return to replenish the water table and to help their crops to grow. Saguaro Wine Festival
Pow wows were originally held by particular tribes who gathered their people together for ceremonial purposes. Some sources state that the term is derived from the Algonquin word pauwau meaning a gathering of spiritual or medicine people. As tribes were pushed west these traditions started to blend into a pan-Indian event. This is especially true in recent times as part of the federal urban relocation programs. There are social pow wows, completion pow wows and traditional pow wows. Pow wows are opportunities to meet new friends connect with old friends and gather together as proud Native people. A Tribe Called Red Pow Wow Styling
For me the highlight of this ceremonial season is the chance to dance with my son. To be sure I have danced with him before.
I particularly remember a War Dance where we faced off scratching the ground wildly trying to intimidate each other but doing it in the slightly crazy manner that is part of this dance. We jumped wildly at each other weapons in hands howling like coyotes, eyes open wide trying our best to make the other back down. How To War Dance
This year is special. He turned 21 on March first and as he is quick to remind me, he is now an adult. He is no longer the child I held in his basket while at his first dance. He is no longer the boy who would toddle around the benches looking for his Grandmother or cousins while the dance was going on. He is no longer the child who would help his Elders find their seats and then curl up at their feet to watch the dance (as long as he could before he drifted off to sleep as this dance goes all night).
We will dance together in the Brush Dance at Kaatimiin, the center of the Karuk world, our home village. Where we once danced as father and son we will now dance as two men. Two Karuk men helping to make the world a better place.
We come from a dance owning family. By participating in this event we are fulfilling an ancient role, being part of a continuum that stretches to the beginning of existence. We will dance together, we will make prayers for the baby, who is our cousin, we will be part of a ceremony that has been around since time began.
In between sips of lemonade and after wiping of that greasy BBQ sauce off of your face take the time to be part of your tribe’s ceremonies. If you do not participate yourself find a way to support the singers, dancers and spiritual leaders that are helping to keep the world in balance. Take your kids, show them their heritage and let them be part of that continuum that stretches to infinity.
Just my two Dentalias worth.
André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California, and the Health Promotions & Education Manager for United Indian Health Services, Inc. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle, and still warily travels the trails of NW California.