Sundance is coming up and I’m feeling pretty excited. (I wonder how many others in New Orleans are on this wavelength? I bet a couple…)
I remember visiting my brother down in Lawrence, KS one summer in my twenties when he was teaching at Haskell. We went to the track and crossed paths with this guy he knew and, in his car, looking a bit sad, he said, “Yeah, it’s tree day tomorrow back home. I wish I was there.” I was Sundancing back then, all gung-ho, and I thought to myself, “What could possibly be going on important enough for him to miss Sundance?” It was a missing-out I thought I’d never inflict upon myself. Boy, have we got a lot to learn when we’re young and in our twenties.
Now I’m thirty six and I didn’t make it to Sundance last year and so I’ve been planning with plenty of commitment to get there this year, come hell or high water. What kept me from going last year? Well, after living thirty five years in Nebraska, my whole life, I got inspired and set off to try living in Seattle for a spell, just to see what happened if I took myself and planted myself somewhere else entirely new. I packed all my stuff into my big unkillable Millennium Falcon (or Buick Roadmaster) and drove across the country, moving in with an old writer friend, getting a job as a cashier at Safeway, and then surrendered myself to the rain, the bigness and gorgeousness of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, to the flow of days, to my fate. I kind of didn’t know what I was doing but I also kind of did. I guess I like to think, at this point, that it all worked out.
I didn’t get chewed up and spit out by urbanity, my naive Nebraskan ass chucked out of the region by some daunting Law & Order-like forces. No, I kept close to the coffee shops and libraries, traveled some (went back to Standing Rock), wrote, molted and grew, acquired some new living abilities, experienced some healing that the spirits probably intended inside the nudge behind this move all along, and even, most significantly and unbelievably, fell in love. I found my groove, meandered some, thrived some, was prolific, matured, watched my Ponca Indian self absorb some volumes of experience that were in many ways beyond my wildest dreams, and really, I had a good time. I really came to love Seattle. “Greatest city on earth,” my writer roommate friend often said. And still today, I can’t say I disagree.
But being away from home was hard. Relatives, including my grandma, died and I was not able to be there for their funerals (or properly grieve them) and that really kind of hurt. The big life of my tribe continued on full-force and relatively magnificently and I was not able to physically be a part of a lot of stuff that I would’ve proudly and lovingly showed up for had I been back in Nebraska. And I went from having a very active ceremonial life with every week full of visiting and seeing elders and relatives to going a year without a sweat and not really chatting with any elders or many other Natives for that time almost at all. It was almost surreal. When Sundance was happening I followed it via before and after Facebook posts and some texts and messaging. Had I a teleporter that I could’ve used only one time I would’ve probably used it to zip back to Santee for that week, to come walking into that valley of tents with my arms upraised to see and be with all my Sundance family and relatives again. If only…
This year, having moved down to New Orleans, to be with my sweetheart, I find myself by fate’s design again living far away from home with our Sundance fast approaching. I am again without a teleporter but I do have my Safeway tax return and committed heart and my girlfriend is on board, so, it looks like we’re flying back to Nebraska for two weeks and we will be there for all eight days of the Sundance. Thank God, too, because my heart is there and I need to go back. I need to be renewed, to check in with all the folks and powers that reside back that way, to bathe myself in the water there, to hug a hundred relatives there, to support and help out at that ceremony that gave me so many good memories and taught me how to live for the people, how to live for LIFE. I love this journey I’m on and I don’t know where it’s taking me but I trust it and I’m ready to go back home and tell everyone about it and to see what all’s been happening since I’ve been gone. And I’m ready to do all this catching up and reuniting at our Sundance because, to me, it’s the most holy place on earth and as such, there’s really nowhere better.
Ten years ago I was twenty six and making my ties and getting everything prepared for my third year of dancing, a boy who was lost but then gloriously found because of this great and indescribable ceremony of ours, the Sundance. Last year I was just making prayers for my relatives as they gathered, remembering it all vividly and feeling, like that guy encountered in Lawrence, a bit sad that life had me elsewhere for other reasons that Sundance. This summer, though, I will be there, walking through the tall, soft grass with my girlfriend, looking at it all with my own eyes, feeling it all with my own heart and body, a man returned, a man blessed who’s beautifully survived two years of adventures and changes and finally come back home.
Sundance is only two months away and boy, am I excited for it.
Cliff Taylor is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a book on Native spirituality, The Memory of Souls, a book of short stories about the stand for water in Standing Rock, Standing Rock Stories, and a memoir about coming-of-age in Nebraska, Special Dogs, all of which are unpublished. His dream is to see those books in print and to use his words to help his people. He currently resides in New Orleans, where he is hard at work on his next book. Contact Cliff @firstname.lastname@example.org