The Sun Dance, and Legal Significance

Kwakwaka'wakw Potlatch with Dancers and Singers

Kwakwaka'wakw Potlatch with Dancer and Singers (Photograph by Edward Curtis 1914).

In 1867, the Canadian Government passed into law, the "Indian Act of 1867". The Indian Act considered all Natives of Canada to be wards of the State. Eliminating their own soverngnty. This oppression was pushed further in 1884 with the "Potlatch Law". This law prohibited the practice of the traditional potlatch of Northwest Native tribes (Hanson, 2009). The Indian Act applied to all Native tribes and slowly assimilated with law after law. 

In 1895, under the same Indian Act, the Canadian Government banned the Sun Dance. Soon after, in 1904, the United States Government followed (Knowles, n.d.). Although the Sundance had already been prohibited in the United States as of 1904, it was still often performed in secrecy. In 1921, the commissioner of Indian Affairs "Charles Burke called for the abolition of "the sundance and all other similar dances and so-called ceremonies"" (Roy, 2005). 

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978)

American Indian Religious freedom Act (1978).

Canada: In 1951, amendments were made to the Indian Act. These amendments removed the more opressive portions of the Act, and no longer prohibited Indigenous people from performing their traditional ceremonies (Hanson). Traditions such as the Potlatch and Sun Dance were now legal in Canada. Although they were now legal, oral tradtion had been lost over the 84 years since the introdution of the Indian Act. 

The United States of America: In 1978, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was signed and passed into law by President Jimmy Carter. This Act ensured that all Native American religions were protected by law under the 1st Amendment (Freedom of Religion). Traditional ceremonies such as the Sun Dance and blood ritual of the sun Dance were now legal. 

The Sun Dance, and Legal Significance