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Dance Competitions

Pat Deiter

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      POWWOW ISSUE 1999      v29 n02 p21  
Originally, A Brave Society, or an individual family organized the dances and ceremonies. Committees included a dance chief, criers, servers and others with specifically assigned duties.

The dance chief of the past held much the same position as the modern celebration's group president. He acted as director for the various activities at the celebration.

The crier acted as the master of ceremonies. Like our contemporary announcer, he conducted the Give-aways, and related the daily events. He was usually an outgoing, witty man, well known to the community. He would walk about the camp, shouting his message, and announcing and beckoning the dancers to the dance area. The whip owner was designated by the elders' blessing to carry on the duties of a whip owner. They carried their ornamented whip, as they called the dancers to participate. If a dancer refused to dance, the whip keeper would exact a penalty, often part of his costume. This practice varies, however, as Alex Bonaise remembers.

"When urging a dancer to dance, he would touch them lightly. If the dancer did not dance after being touched four times, the whip man would have to make a donation. It was also mandatory that the dancer gets up and tells why he didn't dance, and he had to give something to the whip man. So it was just as great a hardship for the whip man, as it was for the dancer."

Dance competitions Few men carry this position today. The whip man's primary duties are to keep the children away from the dancers, and to see that the dance area is kept in good order.

The people of the Battleford area remember Pipe owners who kept order. If someone misbehaved in the camp or at the dance, a Pipe owner would bring the individual to the centre of the dance area and make him smoke a pipe. This pipe contained tobacco and another mixture that gave it a terrible taste. The boy would have to smoke it even if he got sick, or pay a fine. If the fine were not paid, he would keep smoking until someone took pity, and paid it for him. All fines would go towards the Give-away. This position was practiced on all reserves in the Northern Plains in Saskatchewan, until the 1950's.

Tobacco, a special delight to the elderly people, was given to them at some gatherings. Tobacco handlers were appointed to keep a sufficient supply of tobacco available for everyone. This is done today at all social and other ceremonies.

It is a tradition to feed visitors. Not only is this done in individual homes, but at the gathering, as well. Most rituals included a feast. In times past, only the visitors were given rations. Today, daily rations of food are given to each lodge in the camp.

At one time, each committee member was honoured with his own song, at each dance. Their positions were life long, but the rights could be transferable. In a simple induction ceremony, the new official was bestowed by his predecessor, with gifts of value appropriate in the traditional way.

Today, our Dance Committee members are elected, or appointed by office. They usually dance together to an honour song, held early in the celebration.

from, Dancer of the Northern Plains,
Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre, 1987