Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

November 18, 2000 - Issue 23



Soldier Dance

by Carter Camp

Art: O Say Can You See by John Nieto

Perhaps it is because our ancient societies were organized with a special place for warriors or maybe it is because so many of our young men join the Armed Forces. Whatever the reason Indian Veterans are highly honored in the Native American communities of Oklahoma. Tribal elders know that men coming home from combat have special needs. This was particularly meaningful to returning Indian Veterans during the Viet Nam war. Some Vets may have disembarked in San Francisco from a year of hard fighting only to met by shouting protestors. They watched T.V. as their comrades-in-arms were spit upon and disrespected in public. Veterans felt let down by the people they had sacrificed so much for and that feeling has yet to heal in many hearts. Homecoming Viet Nam vets ditched their uniforms as quickly as possible and sought to hide their service.

For Indian Veterans the homecoming was different, they knew their people would honor them as returning heroes. Just as they have done for all the veterans of American Wars since 1776. Indian vets wanted to be seen in uniform and most often proudly wore them home on the plane and bus to the reservation. Each Oklahoma Tribe has a Veterans society which welcomes returning vets into their membership. Here on the Ponca reservation veterans functions are performed by Buffalo Post 38 of the American Legion and their Auxiliary. Buffalo Post 38 was the first all-Indian American Legion Post in the Nation.

When a Ponca comes home from war his (or her) family puts on a "Soldier Dance" as an expression of their pride. They invite all the people to come to the dance, with a special invitation to all Tribal Veterans. A large Indian style feast is prepared and all the relatives begin to gather items for the formal "give-away" in the Veterans honor. A Head Singer is invited by the family, he is an honored man who knows the proper He-thus'-ka warrior society songs to sing for the occasion. Others are selected to fill the positions of Head Man Dancer and Head Woman Dancer. Veterans Societies from other Tribes are invited to attend and Post 38 is asked to post the colors.

On the night of the "Soldier Dance" the returning vet is honored all night long with special songs, blankets given to him or to others on his behalf. Speeches from elders and veterans talk of their own service and thank him for his. An elder veteran fans him with a feather from the Golden Eagle and proclaims his honorable service for all to hear. It is a day which the proud Veteran, his family and his proud Ponca people will remember forever and will forever bring him honor within his Tribe. At the end he is asked to lead a dance while all his family and friends gather in a group to dance behind him.

The important thing is the warrior and his place in the Tribal circle and it had nothing to do with the politics of the war itself. He was recognized as an individual who had been absent from his accustomed place in the Circle to go to war, a young man sent by his elders into danger. On behalf of his people he had risked himself and taken on wounds which must heal. Our people have recognized for many generations the wounds in the soul of a young warrior, which happen when life is taken in war, must be healed before he can resume his life. A welcome by Ponca warriors who have been there begins the healing and the " Soldier Dance" begins his return to the Tribe.



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