April 22, 2012

Dancing to remember

Galan Coons whirls as he dances the prairie-chicken dance.
One of the highlights from this weekend's Prairie Chicken Festival near Burwell, NE was a traditional prairie-chicken dance by Garan Coons, a Sioux dancer and storyteller.  I found his message to be incredibly meaningful to those engaged in conservation on private lands.

Garan told the traditional story of why the Sioux people dance the prairie-chicken dance, and in the style of oral tradition, here is my version:

There was a Sioux brave who went out to hunt to find food for his family.  He was searching for deer or turkey, but wandered all day without finding any.  As the day closed, he found a prairie-chicken.  He did not want to kill the bird, because he knew it was small and it gave music to the plains.  But, his family was hungry.  So, he decided to take the bird, so he could feed his family.

That night, the prairie-chicken came to the man in his dreams.  "I'm sorry to kill you," he explained.  "But, my family was hungry."

The bird replied that this was the way of the earth--to provide for your family.  "But," the bird said, "you must now remember me." 

And so, the Sioux people have always danced the dance of the prairie-chicken, to remember the sacrifice that the birds give to provide for the Sioux people.

It is a wonderful lesson to provide an ethic (a land ethic!) for conservation on lands that we use to provide for our families.  We know that it is impossible to go back to the days before the Great Plains was plowed and fenced, as our population depends on the land for food.  But, we can find ways to take from the land while remembering the sacrifice that the land provides. 

Maybe "remembering" comes in the form of a chicken dance.  Or, perhaps it is simply the pause a hunter makes while looking at the deer and the surrounding land, before starting to field dress.  For a landowner, it can be taking time to do little things that make a big difference for the soil and critters and water that flow through a farm. 

We had a wonderful weekend with the Gracie Creek Landowners group, the hosts of the Prairie Chicken Festival.  It was great to see them dancing their own dance, to remember the prairie chickens!

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