Thanks to John Cuthand for permission to share this story which he posted on Facebook this evening. In his words,
These are things I have been told and what I remember. It is the story that gives meaning to ceremony. I hope I don’t offend anyone by posting this but I’m grey haired and it’s winter. It’s about the origin of the Round Dance.
The story goes there was a woman who loved her mother very much. The daughter never married and refused to leave her mother’s side. Many years later the mother now very old passed away. The daughter’s grief was unending.
One day as she was walking alone on the prairie her thoughts filled with pain. As she walked she saw a figure standing alone upon a hill. She came closer and saw that it was her mother. As she ran toward her she could see her mother’s feet did not touch the ground. Her mother spoke and told her she could not touch her.
“I cannot find peace in the other world so long as you grieve,” she said, “I bring something from the other world to help the people grieve in a good way.” She taught her ceremony and the songs that went with it. “Tell the people that when this circle is made we the ancestors will be dancing with you and we will be as one.”
The daughter returned and taught the people the round dance ceremony.
There is a Cree belief that the northern lights are also spirits of the ancestors dancing in the Green Grass world. It is regarded as a good sign if the northern lights dance as the people dance. The ceremony also ends when the circle is broken on the last song and the people weave in and out as they dance. This is to honor the northern lights and announce the ceremony is ending.
I remember hearing this one time many years ago when I listened to the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College Elders. The part about the northern lights was passed to me by my good friend George Cardinal of Good Fish First Nation. This was translated so the fuller richer meaning in the Cree language *sigh* is missing. It’s beautiful to think about the ancestors dancing with the people as one.
April 2017: Thank you to Askiytakiw Piyesiw Iskwew for sharing another version of the same teachings: http://www.sicc.sk.ca/archive/saskindian/a89mar11.htm