Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Spiritual Awakening: Round Dance Revolution

"The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again." 

Thane Gopher, Asinigous (Stone Voice) lived a humble life, an Anishinabeg, Ojibway-Blackfeet who grew up on Hill 57, Great Falls, Montana.  He was a singer, he was a skilled Round Dance, Powwow, and Sundance Singer, and this is a trait of his clan, of Baazhwaanaazhii, or Crane (Migizi, subclan).

The humility of his life was that of never-ending faith of the power of the Round Dance Ceremony.  This is a way of life of the Great Falls urban Indian community.  Thane Gopher was part of his brothers, Glenn Gopher and Blair Gopher who provided the cultural and spiritual heartbeat of a community clinging to survival.

Thane Gopher died on June 2, 2012 of complications of lung cancer at the age of 55.  He did not live to see the revolution his singing sustained, and for which the collective prayers lift from the Round Dance ceremonies everywhere.  The understanding of the traditional Great Falls community is the Round Dance was given to the people by the souls, the deceased ones.  This is the teaching of the Round Dance that came from the cultural teach-ins hosted by Jim Loud Thunder Gopher during his happy years of Manitou Lake, Saskatchewan.  Jim Gopher was the grandfather of Thane.  The Memorial Feast is always done.

The oral tradition of the Round Dance states the Northern Lights, are the souls of the deceased, dancing in the sky, at one time the lights touched the earth, and the round dance songs could be heard from far off, where the people were camped.  There was a joyful dance that went on all night, where the lights were touching the earth.  The next day, the people went to where the lights had been, and there was a big circular imprint in the high grass, where there had been dancing.  This is how the ceremony came to the people.

During the crisis of the Great Depression, by then Jim Gopher had made his way back to the United States, and settled on Hill 57, the community was under hard times, in fact the worst of times.  The memory of Robert Gopher as retold, he was a child.  He stated the elders of Hill 57 hosted Round Dances in their community.  These Round Dances were held and elderly men sang there.  The people would make bologna sandwiches and tea, there was not a lot to live on at the time, this was all they had for the feast offering.  The Round Dance has the tradition of sustaining the people in times of great hardship.

Robert Gopher restarted the Round Dances during another time of hardship, the Reagan years, that brought prosperity to the upper crust but the low income lacked for want of jobs.  It was a recession economy, spurred by the gas crisis of the late 1970s.  It is often thought the Reagan saved the economy, but the truth is there were more jobs created under Carter, although the unemployment rate remained higher during his years.  This was the situation faced then, it seems more severe now.  Four years of Obama has seen his effort to undo the damage of the prior Republican administration, the same situation faced Carter.


We are taught that people transcend to the soul state upon death, and spiritual transformation to live in the ever after.  As my brother lay dying in a Kalispell hospital, I dreamed of the spiritual voices of Creation, call his name, this is done when a round dance singer enters the sacred realm, Creation awaits their arrival, and call them by name.

Not long after my brother died, I dreamed of him.   I was very grief-stricken, lonely, and barely hanging on to my own life.  In the dream,  he told me, "The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again."  It is as if he saw and predicted what was coming, what is occurring now was probably not conceivable to him as he fought for his life in his final weeks.  He was a hardliner when it came to the cultural traditions, that spiritual traditions will always be honored foremost.


Great Falls hosted a flash mob at the Holiday Village Mall yesterday in support of Canada's First Nations people.  There was a young man there, that came up in the same way as the Gopher brothers, his name is Kyle Spearson, of Ojibway and Blackfeet descent.  His experience is much like the Gopher men, and his spirit is the same in many ways.  His life will be defined by the hardships, struggles and aspirations of the people that he will sing for, that his his path.

Round Dance singers occupy sacred space in the life of humanity.  The flash mobs would not occur had communities not clung to the Round Dance ceremony.  There is a ceremonial existence at the core of the movement taking place, this cannot be set aside.  As the planners of the ceremonial life of the Great Falls Indian community for over three decades, the women of Loud Thunder could never foresee that we will take the collective voice of suffering of the people to the United Nations.

This is what we are doing on January 29th, 2013, and will follow up with a more protracted observance in May during the twelfth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous People.  This is a pan-indigenous movement:  all are welcome, all have a voice, a struggle and a need for universal acceptance and respect for the hardships endured, from the living conditions in the remote areas of Canada, to the tent cities of Los Angeles, caused by immigration discrimination, displacement and ill-conceived policies intended to dehumanize and exclude.

The American effort respects and honors the Round Dance singers who used their power to enact peaceful change, and that the drums are fed, are seen as living spiritual embodiment, for this reason the drums are included in the Memorial Feasts.  For this reason, we ask all American efforts to use the term, "Round Dance Revolution."  We dedicate this peaceful revolution to all past round dance singers who have come and gone on to the world of souls, that they will look at us, it is said they are closer to the Creator than we are, and pity us.  It is time for one fire, and to understand, "The surface of the drum is a sacred space, it is there you'll find your life again."

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