Images We Love: Edward Curtis’ Arikaran Medicine Ceremony photographs

These photographs were taken by Edward Curtis during the decades spent documenting the daily lives of the remaining Native Americans in the U.S. The show members of the Arikara Tribe in South Dakota performing a traditional medicine ceremony.

A century earlier in 1804, Lewis and Clark’s expedition had encountered the Arikaras. Only three villages remained. During the 1780s a smallpox epidemic, brought by European explorers and settlers, had ravaged their population. An estimated 30,000 members of the tribe perished. Lewis and Clark remained with the tribe for five days, negotiating trade with them for the U.S. Government. They also dispatched a representative to Washington D.C.

“The Arikara Medicine Ceremony was performed to recall the gifts animals brought to the tribe. It was held before an altar decorated with corn, representing the Mother Creator, and the skins of important animals, and consisted of a series of dances performed by men dressed as bears, birds, ducks, deer, and other creatures. They danced in front of the altar, mimicking the animals’ motions.” (Edward S. Curtis. “Bull Neck,” in North American Indian Portfolio, 1907-1930.)

According to Mary Koithan, indigenous American healing traditions are identified by the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a “Whole medical system that encompasses a range of holistic treatments used by indigenous healers for a multitude of acute and chronic conditions or to promote health and wellbeing.” (Koithan, Mary. “Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions,” Journal for Nurse Practitioners 6, no. 6 (June 1, 2010): 477-478.)

IMAGE SOURCE: Library of Congress Digital Collections

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