Magnum Photos Blog
Ajax loader
Featured Essays
Sun Dance
May 8, 2018
by Larry Towell
-“We are here where the Laramie Treaty was signed 150 years ago by our ancestors. We want our ancestors to know we are still here and that they did not die in vain. “

-“What we have when we leave our ways behind is suicide, addictions and death.”

(Doug Good Feather.
Medicine Man,
Ft. Laramie sun dance.
July 12, 2017.)

The first Ft. Laramie Treaty was signed on September 17, 1851 between the United States government and several First Nations, including the Sioux. In it, the native Americans allowed for settler safe passage on the Oregon Trail, and the building of roads in their territories while acknowledging the existence of “Indian territory” to which the U.S. Government laid no claim. Re-drafts occurred, but in the end, the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations, lost almost everything, including the Sacred Black Hills.

In the summer of July 2017, a sun dance was held in a farmer’s field a mile east of the historic fort under the guidance of Doug Good Feather, a medicine man originally from North Dakota, as part of an ongoing healing process and as part of a resurgence in Native spirituality to which he is an adherent and a teacher. All forms of native religion were illegal in the United States until the passage of The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, in 1978. The roots of native identity and of spiritual healing, lie in religion, and particularly in the sun dance, the Sioux’s most powerful and important ceremony.

Larry Towell was invited to attend. He came four days early to help set up camp, and remained afterwards to help tear it down. Since he was not allowed to photograph the four day observance of fasting, piercing and prayer, he participated as assistant fire keeper and supporter of the dancers.

Click here to access the images for licensing requests and lightbox editing.