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Lakota Country Times

What are we doing to our ancestor's traditions?

Things change! This is known as evolution, a fact of life - a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually improved or more intricate form. The fact is, when nature decides to evolve, it is a perfect change serving well the purpose for which she made the change.
Other times, change becomes highly questionable, if not awkward, especially when humans initiate the change. In this case, I am referring to a movement within what is commonly known as the powwow circuit. I belief most of these changes are not good for the future of powwow or for our ethnicity.
Although there is numerous modifications each deserving dialogue, I will discuss only one aspect because one alteration reflects all of the changes that have occurred. This one involves the Mastincala Wacipi (Rabbit Dance). Hopefully, it will lead to further positive discussions and eventually to some positive corrective action.
I can only present some of the specifics about this particular dance and its accompanying songs. As for any remedial activity, that is entirely up to the Lakota people, especially those who are involved in the powwow. I will also leave a little challenge. I would like for somebody to inform our younger generations about the origin of this dance.
The Mastincala Wacipi originates among the Great Plains nations. We must remember that specific dances and songs were developed over a long period of time through evolution, mind you. The Rabbit Dance came about as a direct result of life conditions and each has its own origin story.
This particular dance served a much needed societal purpose - to help maintain order within small groups and within the nation. The dance is actually a formal part of courtship. It was a time for couples to go public with their future life partners or for older couples to enjoy themselves and to show that marriage is serious business.
The men dance on the left or on the outside and move clockwise. Respecting themselves, the men usually removed their headgear during the dance. The dance was performed with a significant amount of poise back in the day. With the exception of a very few Lakota people, I don't see this anymore.
The songs for this dance are usually composed by women and sung by the men. The songs speak of adoration, affection, and being in love. As with anything Lakota, there is a bit of humor attached to the songs - the men sing in the female syntax.
One example can be seen in the words, "Scepansi, kici wayaci kun he tuwe so. Takeciyapi na tokiyatan hi so, okiyakaye, imacuka ca, kici wowaglaka wincinye. (Translation: Cousin (female to female), who was that you were dancing with. What is his name and where does he come from? Tell him I like him and I want to talk with him).
Usually, such occurrences are rare and transpire only between couples. In singing this particular song, the men usually express delight with shouts (Akisa) at the point where the words indicate a female's desire to talk with "him." This display is to indicate that such a situation happened to the singer at one time in his life. However, this little aspect of singing is not done any more.
The dance is not called a social dance because that term struck the fancy of an individual or because the dance is "cool". The relationship between a man and a woman was acutely measured; with honor and dignity. This dance is an indication of the high ethical standards that our ancestors once lived by.
Actually, the need for survival of the Lakota nation required high levels of good and decent behavior. How a group of people conduct themselves will most likely determine how they will fare in their future.
Witnessing the overall situation from this perspective, the latest changes are a bit embarrassing. I have seen females dancing with females, sons dancing with mothers, daughters dancing with fathers, and so forth. I would boldly say that this goes against the tradition of the Mastincala Wacipi as well as the Lakota nation.
I hope the waci wicasa/winyan (female/male dancers), hoka (singers), and eyapaha (announcers) are concerned enough to do something about our current situation.
Some of our announcers are doing the best they can in keeping with the traditions our ancestors handed down to us, and my cap is off to you.
I leave you with these questions, "Are we losing our traditions…. or have we lost them?" "What are we doing to our ancestor's traditions?

Ivan F. Starr can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota 57764 or phone at 1-605-867-2448.

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