Article Title

The Sun Dance and the Gustafsen Lake Standoff: Healing Through Resistance and the Danger of Dismissing Religion


The revitalization and renewal of traditional indigenous spiritual practices have produced new forms of indigenous religiosity rooted in experience, contact and combination. This paper examines the contemporary Sun Dance, a traditional healing ritual that seeks to address pain and sickness in indigenous communities through religious practice. For some Sun Dancers in both the United States and Canada who seek freedom for indigenous peoples through radical political activism, the Sun Dance has provided courage, validity and deeper meaning in their endeavours. However, when a highly politicized form of the ritual emerged in the non-traditional region of the British Columbia interior at Gustafsen Lake, it led the media, the state, and local elected First Nations leadership to dismiss the ritual as fraudulent. As demonstrated below, a failure to protect sacred sites and ceremonies and to understand the embodied spiritualities that accompany them can lead to violence between religious communities and the state.


This paper stems from a panel convened at the 2010 American Academy of Religion Eastern International Regional Meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, concerning "Aboriginal Peoples, Religion, and Public Dialogue."

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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