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I don't want to say I know a lot. A person has to watch his words. I don't want to offend anyone. I will tell you as much as I know, my part, my stories... I was telling my wife this morning. When someone comes to you like this, to hear your stories it is an honour.
-George Ceepeekous, 1999
The honour is truly ours. Saskatchewan Indian has been fortunate enough. to sit down with George Ceepeekous and his wife, Stella, recently. From their home in Kawacatoose First Nation, Ceepeekous recounts his first experience of the Grass Dance. For most of his 79 years on Mother Earth, Ceepeekous has been a Prairie Chicken Dancer. If you see this man at a powwow, you will recognize him, because he is the first dancer up, and the last one to go to bed. Ceepeekous' stories are certainly enjoyable, and we are proud to share with you, some of his stories...
One Rainy Morning...
Most people don't think I'm 79. 1 was born in 1920, on Gordon's Reserve. I was born in a tent, one rainy morning. My Dad had a dream about me the night before. In his dream, someone came and told him he was going to have a boy, and he was supposed to give him this name, my Indian name. As soon as I was born, he gave me my Indian name. I don't tell anyone my Indian name, because it is sacred.
Back In The Old Days....
You know, these powwows have changed a lot. It is not like long ago, 'cause in the 1920's, it was way different. Most of those powwows were a sacred doing, like as far as I can remember, in the 1920's. I was six years old when I started to dance grass. 1926 is a long time ago. All those dancers, none of them are living today. I was just a kid then, now they have all passed on.
That time, there was never a woman dancing grass with men. Dancing grass was a sacred doing. Women had their own dances. Women had two types of dance. One was a Grass Dance, and the other was a Round Dance. A few years after that, things started to
(continued on page 6)
L - R: Bill McNabb- Gordons, Harry Asapace, George Ceepeekous- Kawacatoose, Rueben Rider- Carry the Kettle. 1940's Kawactoose Powwow
change. They started to have mixed (men and women) Grass, and Round Dances. That's what 1 remember. That's how it was. There was never a woman dancing grass, or joining the men, not even dancing in one place. You could get a fine if you did those things, that time.
They never started a powwow with a Grand Entry back then, too. This started a few years later. They used to just call the dancers, and who was ever ready, just went in. They didn't set the time either. Things started when people were ready.
When my family used to travel to a powwow, they would go with a team of horses, and a tent. I remember going to Piapot pow-wow one time. It took us a few days to get there. Then we would stay for two nights. They used to have a sports day, and then a powwow. I used to run the six-mile foot races, and won a few. I guess that's why my legs are good.
In the winter, they would also have powwows. These powwows were a gathering again. They would also hold a feast. They would make soup with meat, and prepare fruit, like saskatoons.
Back in 1961, a prairie chicken landed right in front of my car one night. My wife and I were coming to the reserve from Raymore. He landed right in front of my car, so I had to stop. Then all of a sudden, he started to showing off, and dancing right there on the road. His little feet were going back and forth. he moved pretty fast on his feet. He would shake, and hop around in a circle. I started to think, Geez, that was something. 'It was like he was showing me how to dance the chicken style. So I sat there, and watched him dance until he was done. He danced for us for about ten to fifteen minutes. The whole time he danced too, then he flew away. This is a true story!
The Prairie Chicken Dance Style
The chicken dance. I call it the Prairie Chicken Dance. This is how my dad made me understand it. You can say it was the Straight Chicken Dance. I heard a lot of places calling it different, but I learned it as the Prairie Chicken Dance. One thing I don't like, is just calling it the chicken dance. Some people who don't understand this dance, might think of it as a farm chicken, or some other chicken. At one powwow, they were making fun of it. They called it the Kentucky Fried Chicken Dance, and I was in the bunch, dancing. They called us the Kentucky Fried Chicken Dancers. That is not right, you know. It offends us.
I know that the Prairie Chicken Dance started the same time as the Grass Dance style. There was one old man, a long time ago, watching these prairie chickens in the spring. They were mating and doing their courting dance. That's where he picked up these dance
This dancing style pretty near died out one time. There was just myself, and another guy named Bob Kaye. Bob is from here, Kawacatoose. I danced with him twice before. But then I got some young guys to start dancing with me. We would practice every week. Soon there was about twenty or so dancers. That was for a while. Now there is only two left from that group, myself, and a fellow named Warren Kaye, who is also from here.
I got my own style. I don't swing around, or I might trip over. I dance straight. The easiest way I find to dance, is on my toes. I don't dance on my heels. My style has no double beat. Sometimes I have to dance double time. But that doesn't get me stuck, as long as I listen to the drum, and the singing.
(continued on page 15)
The Prairie Chicken Dancers' outfits are all different. On my outfit, I have chicken feathers all over, and some beadwork. I got a bustle on mine. I don't have a special colour, just whatever I want. People from the States recognize me as a Prairie Chicken Dancer right away. Most times, you see guys wearing yarn or bells around their ankles, just like the prairie chicken. Those prairie chickens have a little fur around their feet. When I first joined Grass Dance, everybody had beadwork, straps or circles, and some feathers. There was no yarn, or anything like that, straight beadwork.
Today, my wife, Stella, makes my outfits. I don't know how many pairs of moccasins I went through in my lifetime, a lot I would guess. One of my outfits she made, we sold it to the museum in Regina for $3,000.00. I don't know what they did with it. I heard they had a sale one time. Maybe they sold it to someone in Germany, or something like that.
My Dad, My Teacher
My Dad's name was Ceepeekous. Them days, they only had one name. Ceepeekous means dusty thunder.
How I learned my Chicken Dance, my dad showed me. He was the one who gave me my start. He used to make me dance pretty near every second night, like it or not. In fact, he was my teacher.
When I was six years old, I joined my first powwow. Them days, you had to pay quite a bit. You had to donate a lot of stuff (give-away ceremony), in order to join. I remember that night when we went to the powwow, they dressed me up. My mom made my outfit. My parents donated all their things. We had nothing left when we got home. They even gave away the horse and cow. But I can see today, we pretty well got all that back, and more than what we gave away.
(continued on page 17)
I Don't Know How He Knew
[Right:] Laughing Horse, Mens Traditional
In 1928, I was taken to school at Muskowekwan Boarding School. I had a pretty rough time when I first went to the mission. I didn't understand English. My mom and dad didn't go to school, so they didn't talk English either. I had to start right from the bottom. By the time I left school in 1936, I still didn't know how to tell time. Out of eight years being there, I was promoted to grade seven, and 1 didn't even learn that. Half the time, we were put to work hauling this and that, milking the cows, looking after the horses and pigs.
At school, I took sick, I caught whooping cough. I was really sick. I couldn't stop coughing, and I couldn't eat. If I took medicine or water, I would throw it up right away. Then I got really hungry one supper time. I went to try and eat. They served us soup in a plate. The first mouthful, I threw it up right in my plate. I seen a Sister coming over to me. I thought she was going to help me. She slapped me twice in the head, and pulled me by the ear to another table, and made me face the girls. She treated me like I killed someone. Then she brought my plate over, and told me to eat. I didn't eat it. I didn't come back at the next meal time.
I don't know how my Dad knew. He got there on horseback. He was camping out in Touchwood, a little station near Punnichy. He came and got me. He said, 'I'll take you home.' I don't know what the principal told him, but he brought me home. Now I believe in Indian medicine, because I don't know long I was sick. He brought his medicine bag in, and boiled some herbs. He told me to drink it. I said, 'I can't drink it. Just drink a little, don't take too much,' he said. I was scared that I would throw it up again, but it stayed down. Then, again before I went to bed, I had some more. Next morning, it was a nice morning. The sun was shining and the day was bright. I was so hungry. I told my mom, and she made me something to eat. I finally ate. My Dad cured me. There were doctors around at that time. I don't know why they didn't just take me. They were supposed to be Catholics, working for God. I don't think they worked for God at all.
(continued on page 19)
Unless it Is Given To You
One time, I was asked to say a prayer after Grand Entry. But I told him, 'It is not my way to say a prayer.' My old dad used to say, 'Don't take anything that doesn't belong to you, unless it is given to you. Then you can go ahead and do it. Don't do what other people do.' So I listened to him. That's why I don't say I am a preacher, or traditional. I can hardly pray for myself. My Dad used to give me a lot of warnings about things.
Even today, I know there is getting to be a lot of Indian doctors. My Dad had two bags of medicine. I didn't learn anything about them, or what was in there. He even had Rain Dance songs. These are sacred songs. He never told me, 'You can have them'. He didn't teach me his Rain Dance songs. But after he died, his songs came to me in my dreams. One by one, I dreamt about them. Now I know all his songs. Because I heard his songs in my dreams, it means I can have them. I have the right to pass them on to who I want to.
One time, someone asked me if I knew my deceased Dad's Rain Dance songs. I said, 'Yeah, I know his songs.' Then he said, 'Well, you better give them to me. Make a tape for me, I'll learn them.' He asked me, just like that. He didn't give nothing, not even tobacco. Anyway, I taped them, and gave them to him. He took the tape, but still, he never gave me nothing. I don't even think he had the tape one night, and he lost it. I guess those songs weren't meant for him.
The Song I Passed On
My dad used to have a Prairie Chicken Dance song. This was a real old song from the twenties. In this song, there is no double beat, it is just a straight single beat. My dad dreamt about this song, so it was his own. He used to make me dance to it. He then passed the song on to me. This is the only song he gave me, when he was alive.
I gave that song to a young guy from Sakimay (First Nation). He used to honour me when he would see me. He would come over and give me something, a blanket, or tobacco. Well, I started thinking this was great for someone to treat me that way. So I figured I would give him this song. I taped the song for him. He is young, and he could carry it on.
Now this young guy handed the tape over to the Broadview singers. The Broadview singers sang that song at their powwow last year, in Ochapowace. The Broadview singers got it right on. They never missed a beat. I was there, they invited me to dance.
When the Broadview singers sang my Prairie Chicken Dance song, they told the people, 'No taping.' A young guy tried to tape the song. He came to me after and said, 'I taped that song, but I lost it.' I said, 'You heard what they said, you're not supposed to tape. That's why you lost it.'
Winning Now And Then
Long ago, judges used to pick according to timing. They would go by the sound of the bells and drum beat. A dancer would have to keep time with the beat of the drum. You couldn't go out of time. Those judges would know if you did. Now today, I see dancers in a contest, getting fancier and fancier. They bounce here and there. They go way down to the ground, and then they get up again. They don't listen to the beat. Their timing is off. As long as they are jumping around, the judges will
(continued on page 22)
George and Stella Ceepeekous dancing at SIFC Powwow
look at them. Then the judges, they have to pick a winner. They all look the same. Most of the time, the good dancers who dance in time, are not picked. I never seen that kind of dancing, in my days. Maybe it is getting better, I don't know. But half the time, I don't know what the heck is going on.
Contests started pretty far back. I remember the prize money was pretty small then. At Carry the Kettle powwow in the '40's, I won three dollars for placing. This was the first time I won.
Now today, the prize money can be a lot. But you really have to be lucky. It is the big money that draws the people out to their powwow. When the big champions like myself, (laughs), hear of big money, we will go there and try for it. But you never can depend on winning. At least, I don't expect to win. As long as I can make just a little to help me out, it is good. I have earned quite a bit of money over the years. I made over six to seven thousand dollars one year. Now today, you can earn that kind of money at just one powwow.
This year, I don't know how much I will dance. I have to go through a small surgery. I'm not sick, but it will lay me up for a while. Maybe it is from too much jumping around, too!
I Love To Dance
When I go to powwow, I try my best. I get up on the first beat of the drum, and dance all night long. I go to a powwow to dance, not to sit around. No matter what powwow I am at, I want to make it lively. I like my dancing. Even sometimes at home, I take my tape recorder and practice for a long time.
I think that is how a person builds up his name. He should try to do something good for others. Supposing the singers start singing, and nobody gets up. I get up to any song, because I like to dance. I don't like to watch. I don't think I'm the best, but still, I dance anyway. The crowd doesn't affect me. I don't look around to see who is watching me, or who is laughing at me!
After dancing, I feel good. I feel light. I remember going to Sakimay Powwow, when I was sick. I had a headache, and felt really bad. I thought I wouldn't been able to dance. That evening, I went into Grand Entry, and by the next day, I felt good.
I have been all over dancing, pretty well. I been to the States, down to Alberta, Manitoba, but I stay mostly around here (Saskatchewan). I have won a lot of trophies. I have collected all my registration tags. I even have a whole pile of envelopes that the cheques were in, when I won.
(continued on page 27)
My favorite memory of powwow would have to be Ocean Man Powwow, the biggest win, I guess! I came home with $3,100.00. They had a big contest, and I won on the Grass Dance Competition. My wife, Stella, won too.
I'm never afraid to dance. If I am asked to do an exhibition, I go. I step up. Sometimes when I am at a powwow, they give me the eagle staff to bring in at the Grand Entry. That's a big honour to me. This year at Kahkewistahaw powwow, they have invited me for an honorarium. They are planning to have a Prairie Chicken Dance contest. This is another honour for me.
Raising My Family
I worked hard to bring up my kids. Me and my wife used to make fence posts. If we were not at a powwow, we were in the bush, chopping pickets. She and I worked hard, because there was no family allowance, or welfare to depend on. We had to look after ourselves, and our family. We earned a pretty good living. Even now, I still get up in the morning, make breakfast, and start working. I don't sit around.
We got married in 1941. That was fifty-seven years ago. My wife, Stella, was originally from Kinistin. We are happy; we get along pretty good. We argue once in a while, but that don't last. In the 1940's, it was strict them days. You had to get married by the Church, or don't get married at all. Marriage was a good thing for me. We have seven children, and a bunch of grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. I have even lost count of all of them today.
I drank for a few years, maybe one or two. She quit, I tried to carry on. Then I started to think of my family. I knew I was making a big mistake. So I finally quit. My family was worth it. That was the end of my drinking. I never think of drinking, even when it is offered. In fact, I can't remember what a beer tastes like.
Getting My rewards...
Before I had kids, I would go and help this old man from around here. I would go and take a load of wood to him. He would come out and talk to The Creator for me. He'd pray that I will have a long life. I would have a family, and see all my kids grown. He prayed for me to have a good life. He didn't pay me money for the wood. That's all I got, was the prayer.
Now today, I can see that I am getting my rewards. I had a long life, and we raised all but one baby. I look back at my life, and see that his prayers did work. There has been good things, and some bad things that happened in my life. But a person should be glad if he lived a long life. I am.