In memory of Alicja Rozanska.

Robertjohn Knapp Speaks Out:

Our old elders tell us that our physical bodies are sacred tools or shells so that we can communicate with life around us and walk softly on Sacred Mother Earth, that our spirits are energy, and that our spirit energy never dies. The question is when did I start Sundancing; where did I start Sundancing; why is the Sundance good for me and Native people?

Sundancers Robertjohn Knapp and his son Michaelsun at ceremonies with Traditional Circle of Elders and Youth, Montana. Photo credit: Danny Beaton.

Sundancers Robertjohn Knapp and his son Michaelsun at ceremonies with Traditional Circle of Elders and Youth, Montana. Photo credit: Danny Beaton.

Years ago, I was on the Longest Walk—I think it was seventy-six or seventy-eight? Had my eldest son with me. We went all the way to Indianapolis. He was about six years old, and I turned around and came back to California to meet with Dennis Banks to tell him my experience, how the walk was going. After that there was a Sundance at DQ University in Northern California out of UC Davis, so I went there to dance. There were a couple of young boys with me, and my son and David Miller were with me. There were so many flies and fly crap everywhere that the whole camp was sick. The FBI had dug holes and threw all the watermelons in. The place was very dirty, so every one was sick including me; I could not hold anything down. After two days, I got in my truck and headed to Big Pine where Raymond Stone was.

I swore I’d never dance again, until I broke my neck. I broke my neck in 1982 and had to go through lots of stuff, in and out of hospitals, doctors, therapy, etc. Then I went to meet Raymond Stone, and he with several others began to work on me. It was in Yosemite Valley at Jay Johnson’s place. There we saw white deer, white coyote. There I got back into the sweat lodge; it was the first time that I could sit up again since I broke my neck—that’s what I remember back then. Back then Senator Goldwater in Arizona was going to use the national guard to take out the Navajo off the Big Mountain area. So the gift of being able to sit up in the sweat lodge again was me and David Miller driving over to Big Mountain Arizona, then we started to dance at the survival camp there.

Leonard Crow Dog, the medicine man for AIM, sponsored me to dance. When I got there, I asked Leonard if he needed another dancer and he said, “Yeah.” Leonard said, “What do you have” and I said “not much” so he asked one of his helpers to get me a skirt, then he asked me if I had a whistle, and I said “no” so he gave me an eagle whistle. He said, “Do you have a pipe?” and I said “yeah” so he said “okay.” I made my regalia parts, and I danced there until the end. I danced at the survival camp for a few years, and then went to Ana Mae’s, danced there until they tore it down, the Hopi and FBI and other police, county and state. Between them two places I danced over twenty years.

The question is why is the Sundance good for Native people? I have seen a lot of things over the years, and the Sundance is good for those who want to know themselves and the medicine that you’re praying for. I have danced for my mom; I have danced for my brothers, and they all died, but I danced for them to help them go on to the other side. I went there once. They told me I was supposed to die. Before the third day of dancing, I knew I was already better and cured. So its the same kind of question. It’s a good place; I seen good things and not good things; I seen people come there because they wanted notoriety or some other thing.

Left to right: Professor Francis Borella, Mount San Antonio University, California. Robertjohn Knapp. Professor Gina Lamb, Pitzer College, California. Photo by Danny Beaton.

Left to right: Professor Francis Borella, Mount San Antonio University, California. Robertjohn Knapp. Professor Gina Lamb, Pitzer College, California. Photo by Danny Beaton.

The Sundance is one of the most powerful complete ceremonies I’ve ever seen or been in. There’s two things they talk about sacrificing in the Sundance, and I don’t believe that’s true, I believe the Sundance is an offering, and the difference between a sacrifice and offering is: sacrifice is when I throw you into the fire, an offering is when I go into the fire. So its very specific. So sacrificing is for somebody else. If you make an offering, you go in; you do it. So those are the offerings, and if your offering is pure enough, good enough, then the spirit world will respond to you. If you play, they play—that’s the way I see it. So you go there, and its never been easy. Grandpa use to say there are only two roads, the easy road and the hard road, and the easy road is like jumping off a cliff, and you fall and fall for twenty years and its really easy until you hit bottom. The hard road is that road up the mountain, and that hard road never ever changes, never gets easy, stays hard. It is we who change and therefore it’s not easier—that’s not the right word—but more successful in what you do. More whole in the things you do. More whole in what you do. So during the Sundance, if you’re taught right or maybe if you have an instinct or something where you can find out who you are, where you are, why you’re here. If you can use your mind in a good way, use your mind to make everything whole within yourself.

Leon use to come to the Sundance with me. I loved it when he was there with me. I loved all them guys I used to dance with and the women, even though there were others there doing other things, it was not for me to judge anyone. I seen behaviour there that was not conducive to those who were dancing for love, dancing for all the things, dancing to be a part of the whole, dancing to really know what you’re suppose to be doing here on Mother Earth. I danced for many kinds of things, and those things guide your life. Its not easy; it takes all year to save up enough money just to come back home. So it becomes a whole way of life, so you don’t do things that go against the natural world or life! You don’t hurt people either. Leon said “killing is Gods work,” so in that way a Sundance is good for those who enter into that special world. I remember bringing Shorty there when he was told he was gonna die, and the elders really helped him; they worked with him. We were the same age, but he still passed away. He went to the other side, but I think he went there much stronger, standing on his feet, and I think he went there with love in his heart.

From left to right: Sundancer Guero \ Al Sommers, Danny Beaton, and Robertjohn Knapp. Photo by Christine Knapp.

So what does this Sundance do? Is it for everybody? I think maybe they should be able to see it, but not in a very special way. I think they should see what real love is like and see those people who dance with their heart because they made that choice to do that, and they put their energy out there and shed their blood and suffered. The suffering is offered for everybody, for all people, for all things. They leave their flesh there; they leave their blood there. Then you see somebody negative and it makes you want to cry, makes you want to put your tears down where your blood is. At the same place—and those areas are sacred areas—they will never dig the coal from that ground. The Sundance was good for me because I learned who I was there, in relation to the whole and in relationship to Mother Earth and in relationship to all life. If I had any fear then, I don’t have any anymore. I am willing to do what it takes—to do whatever it takes, even when people hurt me, I try not to have hatred for them. In other words, I have been Sundancing every day of my life; it does not matter who the negative people are. They can’t hurt me any more than I put myself through, and I did it willingly and for my reasons. I learned pain is my friend and not to run away from it.

Well I seen things in the Sundance, all the rock paintings, all of that in the sun—I have seen everything in the sun. I could see what the old people saw, and it made me all the more stronger, all the more full of love for everything. I felt more complete when I danced with my son. When my son was there, what I felt for the first time dancing next to him trimming off the extra flesh is that I felt that I gave birth to my son. So one of the things was to know how a woman feels when giving birth, at least in that direction not by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the best I could do. So how do you do that? I don’t know… pray hard, talk to them. I seen them; I talked to them; I seen all kinds of stuff. So now there is nothing that can take me from what I do, where I am, or what I am doing—there is nothing they can do. I am who I am. I’m a Sundancer.