The Sioux have many traditions and ceremonies which have been handed down for generations beyond counting and are still practiced as of 2014. Among them are the Sun Dance ceremony, the peace pipe and the sacred eagle feather.
The Sun Dance was practiced by many Plains tribes across the United States. Small variations existed between tribes, but the ceremony generally involved elements of physical sacrifice. The ceremony lasted four days, during which participants took only short breaks and were allowed no food or water. Dancers gathered around a tree selected by a holy man and cut with great care. The space around the pole was covered by a circular shaded arbor for singers, spectators and resting dancers, but the men participating stood in the sun. The participants moved around the pole facing into the sun. Their chests were skewered with a sharp bone and attached to the pole with a length of rawhide. Dancers then attempted to tear the bone skewers from their chests as they moved by leaning back against the tether with their body weight. Others pierced the muscles of their backs and dragged heavy buffalo skulls tied to the skewers. Dancers blew whistles made of an eagle's wing bones so that they did not cry out. The ceremony strengthened community ties, renewed the tribe as a whole and allowed individual dancers to ask the creator for something they badly needed or deeply desired.
The Sioux consider the eagle to be the strongest of birds; thus, its feather stands for what is highest, bravest and most holy. The Sioux attach eagle feathers to peace pipes to honor the creator, who is the source of all strength and power. Tradition holds that the pipe itself was given to the Sioux long ago by a holy prophetess named White Buffalo Calf Woman. A Sioux's prayers are carried to the creator when he smokes the sacred pipe.