The Sun Dance is a common ceremony in many Great Plains Nations of the United States and Canada. It varies culturally, but many share similar attributes including blood rituals like the Blackfoot Nation.
The ceremony generally last between four and eight days. It starts during the first sunset after preparation is complete and finishes during a sunset as well. The general meaning of the dance, is that it represents a continual rebirth of all life and cycles on Earth. Often times, the the tribe will set up in a large circle, with a sweat lodge, medicine lodge and pole in the center.
It begins with the gathering of elder women in the tribe who will lead a group of finely dressed women to a tree, where they will remove all of its branches. On the next day, a group of armed warriors will attack the tree to symbolically kill it. Once this is done, it will be carried to the center of the dance area and erected. A buffalo skull will then be tied to the top of the post and face the sun. The lodge is then built by the primary dancer and his clansmen. The fork of the lodge, where the posts meet is called the Eagles Nest. This is because of the eagles sacred position and its connection to the sun and sky. The eagle is meant to act as a channeling point between the spirit of the sun and man (Sun Dance , n.d.). This process is not the same for all tribes, but shares close similarities.
The sweat lodge is used for praying for the sick, while the medicine lodge (sometimes referred to as the Sun-Dance lodge) was used for the public ceremony and blood rituals. The religious portion of the ceremony will take place inside the medicine lodge. Inside, men will dance to the beat of a traditional drum set. They will dance facing East and West throughout the day as they face the sun. While dancing, the men will blow whistles to imitate the call of the eagle. When the religious dance is over, a circle of drummers is formed outside. This portion of the ceremony is called the Grass dance. Men and women will dance around the drummer in a social dance. They are often dressed in elaborate beaded and feathered dresses. This is a time for couples to dance together in a circular pattern. After the final dance, the ceremony is concluded (Ridge, 1954).