Tanisi! My name is Ashleigh LaFournaise, and I am the youth rep for Two-Spirit Michif Local. I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at the first Two-Spirit Sundance held in Manitoba and would love to share that experience with you!
The Sundance is a four-day ceremony where people gather for healing and prayers, and those that are called to will dance and fast over those four days. The dancers also sweat in the morning before they dance, and at the end of the day when they are finished. These dancers make a personal sacrifice through dancing, fasting, and maybe even piercing/offering flesh if they are called to. This is all done while they focus on praying for themselves, their families, for their communities, and for the people. Regardless of the weather or temperature these dancers persevere every day. Having the opportunity to witness and support them is incredible and such an honour.
During the Sundance Ceremony people also come from the community to receive healing at the sacred tree in the centre of the Sundance Arbour, the area where the dancers dance and pray. This is the only other time individuals besides the dancers, elders, and sometimes helpers, are permitted to be in the arbour.
This Sundance was in the Lakota/Dakota style and led by Two-Spirit Métis Elders Charlotte Nolin and Barbara Bruce, who are both remarkable and inspiring people. Charlotte and Barbara have spent the last few years, along with volunteers, clearing and preparing the land specifically purchased for Two-Spirit ceremony. This ceremony land is one of the most peaceful and welcoming spaces I have ever had the opportunity be.
I have been blessed over the last few years to help work on the land and help make the elders’ hard work and dedication come to fruition and make a safe space for our Two-Spirit kin where they can take place in ceremony and be welcomed, loved, and accepted for who they are.
I extend my thanks as well to the Local Executive for extending an invitation to the Two-Spirit Michif Local, and by extension myself!
My time volunteering at the Sundance was spent helping the Elders and dancers in their rest area away from the public, and in this private space I was able to sit, listen, and learn from Kookums Barbara and Charlotte, as well as Elder Myra Laramee.
I absolutely marvel at the strength of our Two-Spirit Elders as they danced with the dancers the entire time, sweat with them every day, and even pierced. I will never forget the absolute awe of watching Charlotte pull seven buffalo skulls around the arbour or watching Barbara dance after being pierced with six eagle feathers. Another Elder, who out of privacy I will not name, was dancing this year as well. In her 80s, she fasted, she sweat, she danced, she pierced, and she dragged buffalo skulls! They are all so amazing and so strong!
These Elders inspire me to keep going, to keep working in spaces where I can, in order to build safe spaces for our Two-Spirit kin, our youth especially, and hopefully provide a space where they can not only feel safe, but flourish.
If you have the chance next year, I do greatly encourage you to come and support the dancers, maybe volunteer where you can, and come feel the utter peace of being surrounded by out Two-Spirit Family!