Red-Tailed Hawk—The Messenger


The image pictured within the text is a depiction of a red-tailed hawk—a drawing based on artifacts, which were found at archaeological sites along the gulf coast. It is believed that the red-tailed hawk is a messenger sent from the Creator that flies between heave an earth. When the Creator wishes to send messages to people he gives those messages to the red-tailed hawk, who then carries it to the world below, where we live. In Native American History, many birds were viewedancerd as having symbolisms.

Often times, a dancer depicting the red-tailed hawk opens ceremonies. As the messenger of the creator, it is believed that nothing can happen, until the creator sends his presence among us—his messenger. When we are assembled at the dance ground, the dancer who represents the messenger appears and dances among us.  He is a sort of an “Indian Angel.”  However, he is Native American—not a white angel—no white wings or halo as Europeans have. Usually, he carries a staff, which he may use to touch and bless people with.  The dancer in this picture has both the staff and rattle.  Normally, the staff is the only thing that’s used. Typically, people in the crowd bring rattles and keep time with rattles for this dance.

The dancer that depicts the red-tailed hawk is usually a young man.  Our dancer has wings like the dancer in the picture.  Other times, we have a more modern costume. The dancer can wear pants in cooler weather and shorts if the weather is warm.  He has ankle bells—strips of material onto which small bells have been sewn that rattle when he dances.  He may also wear wristbands.  We give him a hawk face by using face paint.

We don’t use the headpiece.  It is cumbersome for the dancer to wear and the headpiece is a shaman symbol we no longer use.  The wings have been made in two different ways.  We have used a wire frame covered with lightweight cloth onto which turkey feathers are sewn.  We don’t use real red-tailed hawk feathers as it would offend the creator if we killed his messenger.  Sewing feathers onto a frame is a time consuming process for the women who make the costumes.  It is easier and cheaper if we use cotton fabric, which is patch worked into the appropriate design for the wings. The wings on our Red Hawk Dancer are the colors one would find on the wings of a Red Hawk — browns, rust reds, etc. In either case, a

wire frame holds the wings out.  This should attach to the dancer’s back and be such that different people can use the same wings in succeeding years. Our wings are attached to the dancer by shoulder bands.  The wings need to be spread enough so that the design can be seen but not so spread out that the dancer can’t easily dance.  A full wingspan is too hard for the dancer to manage.  It is best that the wings be semi-tucked.

The staff that our dancer carries is only used with that costume.  All of the costume except the pants or shorts is stored at our dance ground.  The dancer provides his own pants or shorts.  Different people take the role so the costume needs to be one size fits all. People used to carve totem animals onto their staffs but since this staff serves a group we didn’t put any totem animals onto it.  If it were personal, we probably would have put that person’s totem symbols onto the top. The staff, which the dancer carries, needs to be short enough that he can easily carry it while dancing.  Sometimes during the dance he will touch those in the crowd who need a blessing from the Creator—people who are sick, unemployed or otherwise have need. The touch of Red Hawk Dancer’s staff during the dance is a blessing from the Creator.

We think the top knot on the dancer in the picture is supposed to be a shaman’s knot.  However, our dancer is usually not a shaman so we don’t give him a shaman’s knot.  In the old days, some shaman wore their hair long and tied up in a knot on top of their head as a symbol of their office.  We don’t do that anymore.

The Red hawk dancer begins many of our ceremonies.  It is sort of like an opening prayer.  The dancer who represents the messenger of the Creator dances, then there’s a prayer and then we start. However, not all ceremonies are begun by the Red Hawk Dancer. Indian Olympics, Green Corn Festival and Fall Harvest festival begin with the Red hawk dance Other festivals are begun by the Owl Dancer.  The Owl Dancer covers festivals such as Decoration Day and rites concerning hunting/fishing or planting.  The Owl Dancer opens the ceremony when we do the ceremony to remember fallen warriors.

The music our dancer performs to is a lot of rattles and a solo drum.  The drum starts to beat and then the people with rattles join in and the dance begins. Usually no one will sing.