Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Festival marks 40 years of AIM

July 16, 2008

Festival marks 40 years of AIM

Focus is Native American community building, event's leader says

Brittany Westerberg

The 18th annual Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance will provide Native Americans a chance to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the American Indian Movement.

The sundance is an ancient spiritual ritual - one of many that were outlawed until the 1970s - dating back thousands of years, according to Joe Morales, Sundance Headman.

"The sundancers are making a commitment to this way of life," he said. "All of this is community building. The sundancers are all working together, the camp is all working together. ... We're all one, cohesive group."

People started arriving in Pipestone, Minn., on Friday and set up tipis and fixed shelters for the ceremony.

The Sundance begins Thursday and goes through Sunday.

During the ceremony, the sundancers will fast and go without water for four days, Morales said. After those four days of intense dancing, fasting and prayer, it is believed they are completely purified.

The ceremony ends with a piercing ritual, tying them to the earth. It signifies their commitment to their culture and to living a better life.

"Culture and spirituality are tied together," Morales said, "... and so, for us, especially in this time of global warming, over-consumption and using all of our natural resources, it's time for us to learn to live with the earth and not just on the Earth."

For Ginger Sotelo, a nurse who at one time lived in Pine Ridge and now lives in California, the sundances are important because they keep the culture alive. They also give her strength during difficult times, such as this year, after her father passed away in May.

Sotelo has a lot of respect for those people who began to work many years ago to bring back Native American heritage. She said she has been on many walks and protests with AIM.

"Without that movement, we wouldn't have a lot of what we have now," she said.

Nee Gon Nway Wee Dung, meaning "Thunder Before the Storm," is the coordinator of the annual gathering. He also is known as Clyde Bellecourt, one of the three founding members of AIM.

"When we formed, we knew we had to have a spiritual movement," he said.

Today, the Native American culture is here to stay, Bellecourt said. There probably are hundreds of sundances going on across the United States, he said.

His job, he said, is to help encourage young people to stay away from bad influences and learn about their heritage.

"A lot of young people here have never touched alcohol or drugs," he said. Others were lost to those things, "but have found their way back. ... Once they learn this, it'll change their whole life."

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