Writer’s Note

Due to the sensitive nature of the forthcoming material on the Sundance Ceremony I have opted to deliver this preamble.

My motivation for writing about this ceremony – and other less known events – in New Brunswick is to shed some light on them. Reveal them. Expose them for the wonderful and engaging experiences that they are. New Brunswicker’s. by nature, are a very reserved bunch.

The Sundance Ceremony, however, is not, by its’ nature, a public affair. Over the course of five years I received snippets of information about the event. Bits here and there. Mostly from those I presumed weren’t closely associated with Mic’Maw ways and traditions.

As I became more curious about the scope of the ceremony and what it entailed, the first person I turned to for information was Harry. Our neighbour at the yurt on Wilson Road in Upper Rexton is also a resident of Elsipogtog who belongs to the Mic’Maw band. He spoke freely about the ceremony, answering my questions as I became more curious, but indicated he wouldn’t be in attendance. It wasn’t that he lacked passion about the ceremony, or pride in his people. It was more that he didn’t broadcast the event for all to hear and know. Initially, my interpretation was that it was a festival. I couldn’t have been more wrong or felt more foolish for believing so.

In order to fully grasp the sanctity of the ceremony I was going to have to do some research.

The Sundance Ceremony, as it exists presently, is attributable to the aboriginal tribes of the plains of North America: The Lakota, the Cree and the Sioux. Many other native tribes had ceremonies of a similar nature. Or so it was believed.

Unfortunately, the thinking of the time (late 19th century and early 20th century) was that native people’s would be better served if they could be assimilated. Native languages, customs, culture and religion were outlawed. Sacred ceremonies in particular.

In fact, the desire to do away with native customs was so obscene, that those who managed to gain the trust and transcribe the language onto paper had those volumes of text burned for blasphemy. Not only language, but culture and ceremonial ways were lost as well. (In Canada the Sun Dance was barred from 1895 to 1951. In the United States, the ceremony has only been ‘legal’ since 1978.)

Yet, in secret, away from vengeful, spiteful authorities, those plains tribes continued the tradition of the Sundance Ceremony. Because most traditions were lost, other native tribes throughout North America turned to the plains Sundance Ceremony as a means to revive their culture. The Mic’Maw of Elsipogtog started their ceremony over twenty years ago.

Naturally, the distrust of outsiders has remained constant – the Lakota even banned non-natives from participating in the ceremony for a period of time because of the threat (real or perceived) that the sanctity of the event might be compromised. (Given our track record, who can blame them.)

And yet, the continuation of the tradition depends on it being passed down. It’s a challenging dilemma: Expose yourself – your culture, language and customs – and you risk those customs becoming altered, or worse, commercialized and diminished in importance. But if you throw up barriers in order to protect yourself, those same customs may diminish and die out if they’re not shared and spread.

This is the very fine line that I, as a writer, walk. The ceremony has very strict rules regarding its’ recording. No photos and no media are allowed whatsoever. Initially I thought writing about the event would be acceptable. I was just about to share my experience when a nagging thought went off in the back of my mind: Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to write freely about it.

The research I conducted shared that sentiment. So I contacted my client, who contacted the chief in charge of the ceremony. Here’s what he had to say: “As a writer he can write his opinion and how it felt to him. As long as he writes pertaining to himself, his story, no one can really object.”

And so, dear reader, I will do my very best to give due respect to this ancient tradition while sharing with you what it was like to bear witness to such an incredible ceremony.


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