Friday, September 25, 2009

A Statement on the Sun Dance

The topic of my research paper is the effect that Catholicism had on shaping Spanish attitudes towards the Natives in Florida. One of my primary sources is a formal statement from Indian Chief Dick Washakie to explain that the dance rituals of Native Americans, which some of you may recall being referenced in Murphee's "Constructing Floridians," were not the heathen rituals that so many Europeans believed them to be. Washakie explains the nature of the dance, which is a three-to-four day ritual occurring about every June or July in which participants fast for its duration and dance in prayer in an outdoor structure made out of 12 specially selected trees, and he offers interpretations on the ritual mainly to show the similarities with traditional Christian worship. He repeatedly refers to "God, our Father" throughout the text, and explains in closing that he does this because the word "God" is a European invention, and that the Indians do not use it. His explanations of the twelve trees (and eagle feathers mounted atop them) surrounding the sun dance hall as symbolic of the twelve apostles, and his emphasis on the monotheistic nature of their worship is his used to back up his stated argument that the Indians and Europeans, in fact, worship the same god, but merely in different ways. I chose this particular piece because I found it to be a detailed and lucid example of Indian reactions towards the religion-based European view of them. Washakie's indignation is apparent in the first sentence, when he states "our white brothers...have failed to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the sacred and religious beliefs of our so-called sun dance." His entire argument is to simply show that Indian and European religions are two sides of the same coin, both monotheistic and organized in praise of the same deity, and his points sound solid. For the purposes of my research, it does wonders to have these accounts of European attitudes to place against both contemporary Spanish accounts, and modern critical ones.

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