The new summer sun shone brightly over Wind River Canyon as we rode along--It was a happy time. I was nervous with expectation and excited over the experience that awaited me at Fort Waashakii. It was my first Sun Dance. Grandmother Spoonhunter had promised that I could go in the summer of my twelfth year. I had anticipated this moment since first learning the significance and meaning of this most Sacred Ceremony.
My grandmother was and is a member of The Women's Council on our reservation. She had introduced me to this council and our traditional ways when I was very young. From age five on, I had looked forward to my first Sun Dance. I would experience the sacred rite of adulthood. This happened only during the Sun Dance, which was held during late Spring or early Summer each year.
We lived on the Reservation about twenty miles from Fort Washakie [Waashakii], our tribal headquarters. Grandmother and my older brother Mike rode in the front of the pickup. My brother Jack and I rode in the back. We were twins and would both be initiated into adulthood during this period of community celebration.
The smells of the desert were everywhere. The sweet smell of the sage and flowering cactus floated sweetly on the air. The anticipation mounted as we drew closer to the ceremonial site. The desert dust rose behind the truck and settled on our clothes. That smell, too, appealed to us. It was the smell of home. We only experienced these smells in the summer. During the school year, we were sent away to federal boarding school. It was a dreaded and unwelcome experience, but we had to go. The B.I.A. sent us there. We hated it because we weren't allowed to speak our language, to practice our traditional ways, or to dress as we wanted. In the summer we went home, although all of our companions were not as lucky. They spent their summers at school or as indentured workers on the farms that surrounded the school.
Our thoughts returned to our destination when Jack yelled that Fort Washakie was in sight. We could see the Sacred Circle of the Pow Wow grounds in the distance. Jack and I jumped up and stood behind the cab of the moving pick-up in excited anticipation. Grandmother hollered at us to sit down. We ignored her bidding. Mike assured her quietly that we would be O.K. She looked at him reproachfully and then turned her attention to the settlement ahead. The truck came to a screeching halt, as was Mike's habit. In one leap we were out of the pick-up and on the ground. I was ushered off to a Tiipii, with the women, while Grandmother helped Jack dress for his first Sun Dance, and Mike went off to don his traditional outfit.
Women don't usually dance at the Sun Dance unless they are asked, and accept the invitation the year before they do dance. The men dance, and the women cook and take care of the men. When Grandmother returned, she patiently braided my hair. During that first Sun Dance, I and my brother Jack were initiated into adulthood, according to the customs of our people.
Last update: 5 June 2000