Sun Dance Lodge with Onlookers, Army Tents in Background

The Sun Dance ceremony remains one of the most mysterious and secretive Native-American rituals still practiced today. An initiation rite, performing the Sun Dance is an important rite of passage for many Plains Natives. 

In this photo, date and location unknown (except that it was taken in Montana), we see a crowd of onlookers gathered around a Sun Dance lodge, including two men on horseback. 

White folk have always been interested in the Sun Dance, just as they've always been interested in the Sun Vow, the body suspension ritual depicted in the Richard Harris western A Man Called Horse. The Sun Dance, however, does not seem to involve suspension of the body, but instead a grueling, several-day-long dance that must proceed no matter the weather or conditions. 

In 1993, representatives of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota nations from both Canada and the United States met to discuss what they considered a high rate of desecration of the Sun Dance ritual by curious outsiders, and decided therefore to write a "Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality" in order to cut down on disrespectful imitations of the real Sun Dance. 

The secrecy of the Sun Dance is so stringent that Sioux elders must describe it to the youth in a way that is so complex and couched in cultural matters that it cannot be quoted or published for mass consumption. 

Well, whoever was assembled at this particular Sun Dance seemed to enjoy a privileged view of a secret ceremony. 

Make sure to click on the picture in order to inspect the fine details, and leave a comment if you think you know where this photo may have been taken!

Source: Montana Memory Project

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