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  • Tail Sticks and Tail Dancers

    Before the forced removal of the Ponca to Oklahoma Territory in 1877, appointed Tail Dancers among the Hethuska Society would carry the long-shafted, crook-ended Society Coup Sticks in battle and at Society Dance Ceremonies.

    When the Hethuska Society would go out as a group to fight their enemies, the two appointed “Tail” men would carry the two society “coup sticks,” which served as banner staffs displaying the society’s war honors. These crooked staffs would be used to touch enemies in close combat, thus proving the Tail men’s bravery.

    The crooked staffs would also be used to hoist a wounded companion off the battlefield and onto a horse without having to dismount. During a battle with their enemies, the Tail men of the Hethuska Society were said to have been “the bravest of fighters,” and would stay toward the back end of a war party and defend the “tail” of the group.

    On rare occasions, if the enemy strength became too overwhelming these men volunteered to stay behind and fight the enemy, frequently sacrificing themselves, while the rest of the war party escaped to safety.

    Usually there are at least two Tail Dancers appointed by the Ponca Hethuska Society Headman who are considered at the peak of their skill and strength. It is said that they are “all together.” The Tail Dancers serve as role models for the younger members of the society and act as representatives for the general membership, through which the opinions and desires of the members are made known to the Headman and Committeemen.

    Today, the long crooked coup-stick, which sometimes reached a length of eight feet, is represented by a shortened, straight version about two and a half to three feet long called a “tail stick.”

    Traditionally, this tail stick is carried as a symbol of his office only by the appointed Tail Dancers, by men who previously served as Tail Dancers, or by visiting Tail Dancers from other War Dance organizations.

    During the Ponca Hethuska dance ceremony the Tail Dancers are obligated to dance on the repeated last verse or “tail” of all appropriate songs. This obligation represents the historical practice of the Tail men going back to the scene of a recent battle, at great risk to themselves, to recover any wounded or dead companions. It is further said that the practice of more traditional Tail Dancers, is to kick up one foot at the last beat of the drum at the end of a song’s tail. This would symbolize the way the Tail men warriors would kick the bodies of their fallen enemies on the battlefield to make sure they were dead and no longer a threat, while recovering their dead and/or wounded from the battlefield area. (Paul Roughface, Ponca, 1985)

    Today, tail sticks are often made from wooden gun cleaning rods, and can be ornately carved with bits of otter fur and gourd-stitch beadwork decoration. Among the Ponca and Osage at one time, tail sticks were only carried by appointed Tail Dancers or men who had served as a Tail Dancer in the past. (Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage, 1986) (Archie Mason, Jr., Osage, 1987)



    However, in recent years many straight dancers not involved with a ceremonial dance organization, carry a tail stick in place of a mirror board, even if they have not served as a Tail Dancer.
    Last edited by Historian; 03-01-2009, 06:34 PM.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Historian View Post
      Traditionally, this tail stick is carried as a symbol of his office only by the appointed Tail Dancers, by men who previously served as Tail Dancers, or by visiting Tail Dancers from other War Dance organizations.

      However, in recent years many straight dancers not involved with a ceremonial dance organization, carry a tail stick in place of a mirror board, even if they have not served as a Tail Dancer.
      I've heard this before and I just wonder if anyone ever gets called on this. Has anyone within the last 20 years ever heared of anyone getting called out on carrieing a tail stick with out having the rite? Or of the topic ever being discussed on the microphone as public admonishment (you know, the public butt chewing without mentioning specific people but addressing the powwow as a whole?)

      If I came from tail dance people I'd probably be pizzed that people are taking something that meens something and making it common and taking away the value of it. So dont be skeered people! Get out there and take your tail sticks back!
      ScarryWolf

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by BigChef View Post
        I've heard this before and I just wonder if anyone ever gets called on this. Has anyone within the last 20 years ever heared of anyone getting called out on carrieing a tail stick with out having the rite? Or of the topic ever being discussed on the microphone as public admonishment (you know, the public butt chewing without mentioning specific people but addressing the powwow as a whole?)

        If I came from tail dance people I'd probably be pizzed that people are taking something that meens something and making it common and taking away the value of it. So dont be skeered people! Get out there and take your tail sticks back!
        if you are talking about this happening at a powwow, i highly doubt it ever would. Now if there was a non tail dancer dancing at a ceremonial, then yes there would be an issue. There seems to be a great difference between the two.
        So I put my hands up, they're playin' my song
        The butterflies fly away
        I'm noddin' my head like "Yeah!"
        Movin' my hips like "Yeah!"
        -Miley Cyrus

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by ewoaf View Post
          if you are talking about this happening at a powwow, i highly doubt it ever would. Now if there was a non tail dancer dancing at a ceremonial, then yes there would be an issue. There seems to be a great difference between the two.
          I think it could happen (not that it would make a difference though because it would be one lonely voice without enough backup to make a difference). But for the rest of what you say I agree. There is a huge difference between the two, but the tail stick seems to be a symbul of office, it has a use and a meaning. Are eagle feathers used in powwows any less "eagle featherish" than those used in ceremonies. There are discussions (and gossip) at almost every powwow over people wearing otter turbans, jingle dresses, t-dresses, face paint, whistles, family designs, etc that have tribe specific, and or meaning outside our "pan indian" powwows.
          I know nowadaze most people take a free for all stance concerning many of these things ("after all ""powwow is for everyone"") but many within their own circles do not like it. The only answer I can think of is to either do something about it, or accept that its now public domain and only has significane within specific communities.
          Oh well...
          ScarryWolf

          Comment


          • #6
            BigChief... I have seen a few public statements here and there and a few one on one conversations in private among family. I think it has reached a point where more people see it as a article of clothing that is just part of it. There are less folks that understand it is a symbol equal to a whip man's quirt (as an example). It can be a common raffle item as well since they are easy to put together. I have never seen anyone called out on it at a formal though. That comes down to simple ndn manners though in that environment I think. If it gets addressed it is likely to be outside of the arena. Even then the people I know for the most part figure they may just have different ways and keep it to themselves.

            Comment


            • #7
              I have a few thoughts on this. I was taught that we had to be invited to Tail and given your first Tail Stick.

              1) is this at an InterTribal Powwow? if so then many people dance our straight style and adopt our dance but not the Traditions that go with it. Many of us know who goes to our Inlonshkas and who then has the right to carry the Tail Stick.

              2) is this at the Inlonshka? you will see many mirror boards and also many dance sticks. WE know who the Tail Dancers are. Osagesooner, any thoughts?
              BOB

              Comment


              • #8
                I've not heard a thing said about "just anyone" carrying a stick in over 30 years (pow wow). Normally at a pow wow you will see at least 90% of the straight dancers carrying dance sticks, even children. I'm sure the majority of these people have no clue to the history of the dance stick.

                I recall the stories that only one designated person would wear a feather bustle at a dance way back in the day....now look.

                I've been to my share of man dances and not once have I heard anything said to dancers who were carrying dance sticks.

                Agreed Cherosage, I too have taught/brought up that one doesn't just "show up" to a man dance, you must be invited.
                Traditions.....keep them and keep them sacred!

                I am NOT Indian. I have never been to India, nor has any of my family before me! I have met these people from India, of whom you speak, and I am nothing like them. Why do you call me an Indian?

                .

                Comment


                • #9
                  I have heard that there is some talk among some Oklahoma Veteran organizations, that are starting to look into the idea of having longer, specially decorated Tail Sticks to identify themselves as seperate from the normal Tail Sticks seen at Pow-Wows by non-organization members.

                  "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                  "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                  --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Doesn't matter, someone will see them and say "oh cool, I'm gonna make me one like that". Next thing you know everyone will have one.

                    No thought or respect will be given as to what it stands for and who should be carring it.....or more importantly, who shouldn't!!!


                    .
                    Traditions.....keep them and keep them sacred!

                    I am NOT Indian. I have never been to India, nor has any of my family before me! I have met these people from India, of whom you speak, and I am nothing like them. Why do you call me an Indian?

                    .

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Historian View Post
                      I have heard that there is some talk among some Oklahoma Veteran organizations, that are starting to look into the idea of having longer, specially decorated Tail Sticks to identify themselves as seperate from the normal Tail Sticks seen at Pow-Wows by non-organization members.
                      Maybe some people did not know there is a difference between a tail stick and a coup stick. Maybe it is a question of educating people about the real meaning of a tail stick.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Bump...

                        "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                        "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                        --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

                        Comment

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