December 31, 2007
Spirit Hawk ^i^

Seems I am always being asked for information about Pow Wows. Everything from what they are to what is proper etiquette while attending one. I certainly am no authority on them but I hope the following info is of help to anyone interested.....Spirit Hawk ^i^

The Regalia
Final Words

"We know them as ceremonies, because we are celebrating something. We are celebrating the birth of a new Grandbaby, crops were good, everybody made it around the world real good, everybody's happy. All of these ceremonies go along with our lives. They are family oriented." -Abe Conklin Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

These ceremonies, commonly known as pow wows, have evolved from a formal ceremony of the past into a modern blend of dance, family reunion, and festival. Pow wows are famous for their pagentry of colors and dance which, it should be understood, have been adapted and changed since their beginnings into a bright, fast, and exciting event geared towards our People and visitors alike.

Today pow wows are held all across the North American continent, from small towns such as White Eagle, Oklahoma, to some of the largest, such as Los Angeles, California. They can take place anywhere from cow pastures to convention centers, and occur year round. These festivals usually last only one weekend, but draw various Nations and visitors from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. There is a reason for the hours of travel, a reason that deals with who you are, what you feel and what you believe . Some come to these celebrations to "contest," some come to sing songs, some come to see relatives and friends, and some come for the atmosphere. A pow wow makes people feel good, a feeling that is mental and physical. For this reason, pow wows spread across the plains quickly and today serve as one of the main cultural activities of Native Americans.

Pow Wows are organized by committees that work for weeks before the event. At the Pow Wow, the MC runs the events. The MC works with the Arena Director to keep the Pow Wow organized and running smoothly. These two individuals along with the committee work hard to bring the people together to dance and fellowship together in the circle.

The Pow Wow begins by the Grand Entry. This is the entry of all the people entering the arena. This originally was a parade through the town the Pow Wow was in. Even today in some Pow Wows, these parades are still held. ( It should be noted that some believe that when we were forced onto reservations the government also forced us to have dances for the public to come and see. Before each dance we were lead through the town in a parade, which now is the beginning of the Grand Entry.) During the Grand Entry, everyone is asked to stand as the flags are brought into the arena. The flags carried generally include the US flag, tribal flags, POW flag, and eagle staffs of various tribes present. These are usually carried by veterans. Native Americans hold the United States flag in an honored position despite the horrible treatment received from this country. The flag has a dual meaning. First it is a way to remember all of the ancestors that fought against this country. It is also the symbol of the United States which we are now a part. The flag here also reminds people of those who have fought for this country, our veterans.

Following the veterans are other important guests of the Pow Wow including tribal chiefs, elders, and Pow Wow organizers. Next in line are the men dancers. The men are followed by the women dancers. Once everyone is in the arena, the song ends and a song is sung to honor the flag and the veterans. After a prayer, the dancing resumes, usually with a few Round Dances. After the Round Dances, intertribal dancing songs are sung and everyone dances to the beat of the drum.



The Poncas War Societies were the first to practice this ceremony, which they call the Hethuska, as early as 1804. They passed the Hethuska to the Kaw, and they in turn gave the dance to the Osage, who named it the "Inlonschka". The Omaha then aquired the ceremony and spread it north to the Lakota (Sioux) tribe who popularized it on reservations in the late 1890's. In this time, the "Omaha", or "Grass" dance as it was then called, spread faster than the more famous Ghost Dance of the same time. Unlike ceremonial dances of other tribes, the Grass dancers danced for the purpose of dancing itself, instead of as a religious ceremony.
In the 1920's, some pow wows became "inter-tribal," meaning that they were open for all tribes to attend, and the practice of "contesting" began. Contesting involves dance competitions that may last all weekend, taking into account how often dancers dance as well as how well they may dance, in order to give out prizes that range into thousands of dollars. World War II brought a revival to the pow wow world, and ever since pow wows have been growing, constantly changing and adapting to modern ways, while retaining their cultural roots. Brighter colors, more motions and even a new style of dance has emerged from the passage of time. Our culture is not dead and fixed under the glass of a museum, but instead it is a living culture, retaining it's heritage and advancing with the times.



The dance outfits worn in the circle during the Powwow are called regalia or outfits. Though highly decorative, these outfits are never referred to as "costumes". The term costume denotes artificiality and wear that is donned for an event that is not a part of one's ongoing life. To the contrary, these outfits are very personal and artistic expressions of the dancers' lives, feelings, interests, family and spiritual quest. Often elements of the regalia are gifts from elders or treasured people in the dancers' lives and are honorings to be worn with pride and responsibility. The regalia evolves and changes as the dancer evolves and changes in life. Each season, changes are made depending on the fashion of the time or the personal change in taste. There is no contradiction in blending historic elements with very modern elements, for example interweaving traditional beadwork with Minnie Mouse braid holders.

Since the regalia expresses the life of each individual dancer, design elements from many different sources are appropriate. As Ron Davis, an Objibwe Grass Dancer, explains "It takes a long time to make an outfit, you know. You can go through life and keep adding on to that outfit. Because there are different circumstances that surround different items that you add to your outfit. When you're dancing, these things that are in the regalia, they bring out a shine. You actually shine out there, and you feel good about yourself. Everybody can do that. It's not just for Anishinabe people. It's for everyone."



I have often been asked about proper etiquette at Pow Wows. It should be noted that every POW WOW is different so the first rule is the most important. The key is respect, and many "first timers" don't have access to the life-long teachings that we take for granted.
The following are general rules I give to follow when going to a POW WOW.

Listen to the Master of Ceremonies.

1) Do not sit within the arena. The chairs inside the arena are reserved for the dancers. Use the outside circle or bleachers if provided.

2) If you want to take pictures, check with the POWWOW host first, then check with the person you are taking pictures of and ASK THEIR PERMISSION. Under no circumstances may you enter the arena to take photos. Put your camera down for all memorial dances.

3) All tape recording must be done with the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead (or Head) Singer of EACH drum. When a new drum starts, do not enter the arena to get to the other drum. Don't run. Miss the song and wait for the next one to take your time getting to the drum. Nothing is more rude than "Recorder-runners" ganging around a drum. Many Powwow disallow this anyway (fine by me!).

4) If you are not wearing traditional Regalia, you may dance only on social songs (like Two-Step, Blanket Dance, Honoring Songs, Circle, etc..). Sometimes a blanket dance is held to gather money. You may enter the circle to donate.

5) Only those with the permission of the Lead Singer may sit at a drum. (And it's a good idea to know the songs because it's often a habit to ask the "stranger" to lead one.)

6) Stand and men must remove their hat (unless traditional head gear) during the Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Invocation, Memorial, Veterans Songs, and the Closing Song.

7) During the Gourd Dancing, only Gourd Dancers and Gourd Dance Societies are to enter the Dance arena. Owning a gourd rattle does not make one a Gourd Dancer. Check with the local Societies.

8) Please do not permit your children to enter the dance circle unless they are dancing.

9) Do not touch anyone's dance Regalia without their permission. These clothes are not "costumes" and yes we use modern things like safety pins and such because we are a "living" culture, our Regalia is subject to change. Leave your stereotypes at home. (Yes there are some blond tribal enrolled Indians... no ones fault that life goes on!)

10) If you are asked to dance by an elder, do so. It is rude and disrespectful to say, "I don't know how." How can you learn if you turn the elders down?

11) Most all Powwows do not allow Alcoholic beverages, Gold Paint cans, or drugs here. The Powwow is a time of joyful gathering and celebration of life. Alcohol and drugs are destroying our way of life and these "bad" spirits are not welcome.

12) It's funny how much trash we as people drop. Make an extra effort to walk to the trash can. Respect Mother Earth.

13) Remember always: Native American Indian dances are more than the word "dance" can describe. They are a ceremony and a prayer which all life encompasses and produce many emotional and spiritual reactions. Some dances are old, some are brand new... the culture continues to live and evolve.

14) Urban Powwows are much more "tense" than Powwows on the rez. As people are away from the comfort of culture, they tend to take things more seriously. Abide by peoples wishes and requests. We as Indian people believe differently. Some dance around clock-wise, others counter clock-wise. If our host asks, we sometimes voluntarily show our respect by temporarily changing our way(s). Show your respect by doing the same.



Have fun.

Buy something from the vendors.

Donate if you can.

And most of all don't be so uptight and relax.

The whole universe comes together this day to celebrate. You are invited to join in.

So says Spirit Hawk ^i^

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