Dec 7, 2013 - Chase Iron Eyes waxing self-righteously on FILMING THE SUNDANCE CEREMONY, WTF?!
There are two recently released efforts that are causing a stir among Indigenous thinkers. One is a “Chase & Status” music video shot on the BlackFeet Nation homelands and the other is an indiegogo effort to raise money to finish a film project that showcases the actual conducting of the Sundance ceremony. The BlackFeet music video shows actual footage inside the sweat lodge (which has been done before and is taboo though we are desensitized a bit) but the most controversial aspect of both videos is the showcasing or staging of the sundance ceremony.
The Non-Indians film a Sundance. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sundance-and-the-story-of-chief-white-cloud
Let’s talk of the non-Indian sundance ceremony film project first. The sundance ceremony is filmed in New Zealand (among some other 50 hours of footage) by non-Indians who claim to be carrying out the wishes of a now-deceased Indigenous First-Nations spiritual and sundance leader. The sundancers are in sincere and genuine conduct of the ceremony including the act of piercing on the film. The sundance ceremony film project is patently dis-honorable. It it is a desecration of the most offensive manner regardless of any human’s claims that this should be done to preserve this way for the world. The film project is a consequence of our efforts to open up our ceremonies to the non-Indigenous populations; there is simply no way to control the digital proliferation, profiteering and other negative aspects of sharing our ceremonial ways with outsiders. I say this with the sincerest wish that all of the human family can learn to live a respect relationship with the universal powers of Creation -this is indeed the definition of Indigenous.
We are all members of the human family, the two-leggeds, but I know that certain ceremonies are meant to be kept in sanctity and reverence because of the magnitude of the instructions and responsibilities that come with a heavy gift such as a spiritually empowered ceremony. The film is obviously something that Natives would not do themselves (at least I’d like to think so) but like mentioned before we cannot by force of law or morality compel these outsiders to refrain from their misguided efforts though they firmly and genuinely may be good spirits just wanting to help the awakening of the world. Although a world-wide spiritual awakening is the only thing that may save this planet we cannot arrive at that by filming the performance of our most sacred ceremonies; these should remain inviolable. The wayward ones are not without a purpose however because the real ceremonies and their practitioners know the fake ones when they see it and it follows that more of those that lack a sufficient spiritual respect and understanding of their place in the cosmos will seek out the James Rays and plastic shamans of the world while the true carriers of the ceremonies will hopefully proliferate in the way we have for tens of thousands of years.
Indigenous people dramatize and film a staged Sundance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9pU9FPz-dk
Now the Blackfeet music video is a bit more complex because it involves legitimate “Indian subjects.” I hope the video goes global because of its raw power in portraying the struggles we face coming up in an imposed poverty culture. The protagonist of the video succumbs to the ills that are a symptom of this imposed poverty (substances and violence) only to find salvation through the sober, clear life of ceremony that his ancestors sacrificed their own lives for.Yet, we cannot fail to pass criticism on the filmed portrayal of the sundance ceremony if we are to be morally upright in our ability to hold that position with respect to the sanctity of ceremonial practice world-wide or at least with respect to the ceremonies that the Creator trusted us with.
We should not film sacred ceremonies. What is sacred? You know; your spirit knows. You know when you are stepping over the line. Filming an actual sundance is clearly stepping over the line. If you want to spectate at the act of piercing or sun dancing you should not be able to do it on a god damned computer or any digital media for that matter. Haul your ass to an actual sundance; and when your’r there don’t spectate, participate even if you consider yourself in the “audience” (support circle). Although we cannot fully incriminate the creators of this video because it’s not patently offensive as is the film of the actual ceremony, we still must state publicly, for the purpose of guiding the future of Indigenous country that filming or even dramatizing (in human form for the purpose of filming) the conducting of sacred acts and ceremonies such as the offering of a connected pipe and the sundance should never be taken lightly and altogether avoided. We only do these things to connect to the universe, not to make objects of them.
We do not know what the consequences will be for us to take this next step in the process of documenting our own stories. This is the other side of the media. Non-indians no longer control the proliferation of our images (to a very large extent they do but there are independent holdouts) and we no longer have to accept the “non-indian does the poverty-porn or romanticized narrative with a white-person on a horse as the hero of the story/documentary/movie/etc”. We have the lens, the fiber optics and the satellites and with that comes the ability to destroy the sanctity of our gifts in an unprecedented manner by doing this to ourselves. Will we choose to objectify ourselves (as we currently do when we make mascots out of ourselves)? Will we choose to shock our own collective conscience? Will we choose to present ourselves in a romanticized fashion exploiting ourselves and outsiders at the same time? That is our choice; nobody, not even Creator, is going to tell us no.
It is not our place to tell other nations how to be or to force others to keep the ceremonies sacred (maybe they were authorized by spiritual leaders) but if I were a judge of all things indigenous I would issue a cease & desist order to the creators of the video of the actual sundance ceremony and maybe make the Blackfeet video makers sign a pledge to uphold the sacred in future efforts because to see those images (even in dramatized form) is unsettling but I love your video -it’s pure badass.
Each of us is imbued with a free will, an intellect, a consciousness and an ability to choose our own destiny (All these are simply referred to as the sicun in Lakota cosmology). However, it is the place of thought leaders, the deliberators, the big-bellies and the silent-eaters to engage in the powerful act of insight to lay the foundations and guide posts of our spiritual and artistic expressions as indigenous peoples. We’ve got to respect the Creator, we’ve got to respect ourselves.