These are members of the Kiowa Nation, preparing to participate in their annual Gourd Dance.
And you may not know it, but this picture is a miracle.
The Kiowa are part of the Sioux people, nomads who originally lived in Montana and South Dakota before migrating South. In the years following the Civil War, the US army waged a campaign of extermination against the Sioux and other Native nations. Even after the Native peoples surrendered and were forced onto reservations, the US government took measures to destroy Native cultures. They established Indian Boarding Schools, forcing parents to send their kids to them. The kids were abused, forced to dress as Europeans and speaking any language other than English was forbidden.
On the reservations, the US outlawed Native religions and practices, which included the Kiowa Gourd Dance.
The Gourd Dance was, at that point, over a century old. It originated when a brave returning from battle got lost and wandered until he was rescued by a red wolf. According to legend, the wolf taught him the Gourd Dance and sent him back to his people, and every year, the men of the Kiowa nation performed the dance to welcome home warriors who defended them. They ended each dance with a wolf’s howl.
The US Government outlawed the Gourd Dance in the 1890s, as part of a larger effort to eradicate Native cultures.
Which is why I said this picture is a miracle. Because it was 60 years later, in 1957 the US government finally recognized the Kiowa as an official nation, allowing them to be Kiowa in public.
One of the Kiowa officials moved quickly. He tracked down a handful of men who were old enough to have learned the Gourd Dance. It turned out they had kept the tradition alive in secret, singing the songs in their (illegal) native language.
So in 1957, the Kiowa Nation held their first official, public Gourd Dance in over half a century. They dance every year now, passing on the dance, the songs, the culture to their children and grandchildren.
But they no longer dance for returning warriors. Now they dance for every man, woman and child who fights to preserve the Kiowa Nation.
The Gourd Dance is a dance of celebration. And for the embattled Kiowa Nation, to celebrate is to resist. To dance is to insist they’re still here. That they won’t be silenced.
The Kiowa teach us that sometimes the bravest thing you can do is celebrate.
As we’re approaching Christmas, the whole culture around us is in a frenzy of holiday cheer.
And since we’re days from Christmas, this can be the time the weight of holiday expectations starts to become crushing. A lot of us feel embattled right now, for all kinds of different reasons.
Let’s take a lesson from our Kiowa neighbors: what does it look like to celebrate as a form of resistance?