Salt Creek Sundance returns to Southern Indiana


The return of the Salt Creek Sundance to the Jackson County area for the first time in 11 years in mid-July will be a special occasion for Native Americans in this region who embrace what they call a “very sacred ceremony.”

Yet the religious event will be open to viewing by members of the public.

“Everybody has the right to be there,” said J.D. Fish, one of the organizers of the Lakota-rooted activity. “But we ask they be respectful as if they are in church.”

Preparation, “purification” begins today. A sacred circle will be arranged and a special tree designated as the Tree of Life. The dance begins Wednesday and runs for four days, through July 16. The main participants engaging in dance and prayer will fast and refrain from taking water during that time period.

Organizers make it clear the ceremony involves piercing of the flesh. They “sacrifice their flesh and their blood under the Tree of Life for the people,” said Jack Fish.

This will be the 31st year for the Salt Creek Sundance, which for 20 years took place in the Hoosier National Forest near Sundance Lake in Brown County near the Jackson County line. It was then moved to other locations. The Sundance honoring ancestors will take place on private land donated for use by Andrew and Janet Lockman. The gesture enables the Sundance to return to southern Indiana.

“It’s coming full circle,” said Chief Steve McCullough. “It’s called the circle of life.”

People have attended the Sundance, in Indiana and elsewhere in the area, from countries all over, McCullough said.

“The Salt Creek Sundance has touched the world,” he said, taking note of visitors from such places as Canada, Colombia and Ecuador.

It is common for friends and relatives of the dancers to set up a camp nearby during the four days of dancing as a way of expressing support.

The Sundance, which can also be spelled “Sun Dance,” historically was most often practiced by Native Americans from the Great Plains in the United States and Canada. The governments of both countries, seeking to eliminate elements of native culture, banned the Sundance for many years. In Canada, the right to perform the ceremony was restored in 1951. It was not until 1978 that the U.S. Congress restored Native American religious freedoms.

The Sundance in this area originated to commune with spirits after some 400 native graves were mistreated in Uniontown, Kentucky. They were dug up on a farm field, sparking the ceremony there for a four-year period until laws were enacted in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana to protect Native American gravesites.

Friday, the third day of this year’s ceremony, is called “Healing Day” and members of the public will be allowed to participate and enter the sacred circle. It is stressed that throughout the Sundance, drugs, alcohol, firearms, cameras and sketchbooks are forbidden by spectators.

There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome. The closest address to the Sundance grounds is 11795 W. County Road 325N, Norman. Rows of multi-colored flags will be placed along the roads to help guide visitors to the Sundance site.

There is an extreme level of excitement among longtime participants and organizers about the return of the Sundance to this part of southern Indiana.

“We feel connected to the spirits in this area,” J.D. Fish said. “It means a great deal to all of us. We want to continue to be here.”

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