Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Origin of the Four Sacred Ceremonies


Reprinted with permission from Traditional Teachings by the Native North American Travelling College

Before the time of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha, and at a time when the Onkwehonwe were without spiritual beliefs and had no laws to guide them - the origin of the Four Sacred Ceremonies took place.

Twelve boys were born at the same time. Eleven of the children had fathers. The one who did not have a father was born with a special power.

Because all their sons were born at the same time, the mothers of these children felt a bond with each other. Therefore, they often brought their sons together. Soon they realized that their children had a common bond among themselves. The one who had no father became their Leader. From the day he was born, there was something special about him that would attract the others. Even when they were babies playing around in the dirt, the others would go to him. He was a natural leader.

As the boys grew up, their mothers began to notice a pattern about them. They would go off…they would leave the village…they would go off into the woods somewhere. Finally, the mother of one of the boys began wondering about this pattern. One time, she trailed them, trying to stay out of sight. She found them all sitting in a circle near a tree. To her surprise, their Leader was speaking to them. She overheard him explain that he was born into this world with a purpose. His father had sent him here to teach the humans how to give thanks to their Creator for a good life. She observed him speaking in a certain way. Each time he would finish, he would point to the forehead of one of the boys and say, “This is what you will be able to do.” He did this to each of the eleven boys in the circle. He would point to one of the children and say, “You will be the speaker of the Thanksgiving Greeting. These words will be used to offer greetings to our Father. This you will do to open and close each gathering. You will speak these good words on behalf of the people.”

Then, to another, he would say, “You will be a Singer of the Great Feather Dance. This song and dance will be the one chosen to honor the Creator and the good mind that the people have. In this manner, they will acknowledge the Sonkwaiatison (Creator).” To another boy, he would say, “You will be the Singer of the Atonwa. This song will be used to open the ceremonies when the young ones receive their names so that all the natural life will acknowledge them and provide them with good fortune during their life cycle. This will also be the time for the men to sing their personal chants and share their song with the people.” To another, he would say, “You shall learn the Drum Song which will express the appreciation of all the people for the many things they have in this world.” They would keep this going all day till close to nightfall.

When the boys returned from the forest, their Leader went to the mother and told her, “I know you came by us. I know you were out there. All I can tell you right now is that we haven’t finished our work. When that is done, we will come and explain it to the people. We will put it into words for the people to understand.”

By the time the boys were young men, they were finished with their work. They began to explain to the people in the Village what they had been learning all this time. The Leader explained to the people that he had been sent here by his father to teach people how to be grateful for all the things that we have in this world…how to be grateful to our “Sonkwaiatison” (Creator). He said, “We must remember that all other life Creatures are our relatives. They, too, have a special purpose in life, and we are to respect that. The manner in which we will do this is through our songs and our dances. In this way, we will honor the things they will bring to us. To express our appreciation for all life, I have taught my brothers three main dances, which they will teach you.

These dances are:

The Great Feather Dance

The Drum Dance

The Atonwa or The Personal Chant

He then told the people that these dances were to be done at certain times throughout the year when the people will come together, to pay respect to life and beings that they live with and the things that keep life going. Referring to the eleven boys as brothers because they were born at the same time — he explained why all his brothers had been learning the Thanksgiving songs and dances:

“No one man will ever be able to remember all these things. Thus, they will be shared among the people, and from the people will come the next ones who will learn them. So, you are to keep your eye on the little ones as they grow up because, as you do, you will see that certain ones have an interest in these things. You will see that they have the gift for picking up the songs, dances or speaking. You will watch and work with these children to teach them all these things.”

After the brothers gave their instructions to the people, they adapted these ceremonies to the cycle of the seasons. They are as follows:

MIDWINTER CEREMONY- in the middle of winter

MAPLE SYRUP - at the end of spring

THUNDER DANCE - early summer

MOON DANCE - early summer

STRAWBERRY - early summer

PLANTING CEREMONY - early summer

BEAN DANCE - midsummer

GREEN CORN DANCE - midsummer

HARVEST DANCE - end of summer

MOON DANCE - early fall


Continued next week...


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