History of the Pow Wow
The word Pow Wow, or pau wau,means a gathering of
people coming together to trade. Explorers misinterpreted the ceremony of
medicine men dancing, thinking all natives gathered to sing and dance in this
manner.The modern day
Pow Wow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early
1800's. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to re-inact their brave
deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.The growth of
reservations gave rise to the modern Pow Wow, This was a time of transition for
the Native people across
Pow Wow elders have been told by their grandfathers and grandmothers that the men did most of the dancing, only in recent decades have the women been accepted to dance among the men in the sacred circle.
Hand drums and log
poles were often used to provide a beat. The tribe was constantly traveling to
follow the seasonal migration, making large drums hard to care for and
transport. Most songs were passed down from generation to generation; some
having special words that belonged to a certain tribe or nation, some
containing no words. Each song is sung for a special event. There are special
songs sung for traditional and fancy dance, as well as different styles of
dancing, such as the Owl Dance
Upon contact with the Europeans, most native cultures were holding Pow Wows, or gatherings of celebration less and less. The Pow Wow is a time for renewing old friendships and making new ones. Wars were put aside to celebrate in unison. Trappers and native designers were welcome to set up their ware for the dancers wanting to purchase material and accessories to design their regalia; as it is a great pride to design your own outfit.
Today the Pow Wow
circut is strong and more alive than ever before. Throughout the year, in
cities, towns, villages and reservations; men, women and children of all ages
gather together to celebrate the traditions, heritage, and culture of the Pow
The modern day Pow Wow basis itself on the fundamental values common to Native Americans throughout North America: honor, respect, tradition, and generosity. Along with their families, thousands of singers, dancers, artists, and craftspeople follow the "Pow Wow Trail" all over the continent to share and celebrate our culture.
The modern Pow Wow has retained its traditional roots while incorporating the inheritances of an ever changing world. This melding of the old ways with the new results in an exciting celebration that can be enjoyed by all. Pow Wows today is a gathering of North American First Nations people who join in dancing, singing, visiting old friends and making new friends. The Pow Wow celebrations is a time for preserving a rich heritage and keeping the tradional ways alive. Originally held in the spring to celebrate a new beginning of life, Pow Wows have spiritual significance. Even though most of the spiritual ceremonies for dropped eagle feather still remain today.
Each session of the Pow Wow begins with a Grand Entry where the dancers in their regalia enter the sacred circle (arbor) in single file, dancing their particular dance style. Leading the Grand Entry are the flag bearers, carring the Canadian and American Flags, traditional Eagle Staff (Native Flag) and the flags of other participating nations. Following the Flag Bearers are the members of the Pow Wow Royalty.
The Men's Traditional dancers - protectors and preservers of the traditional ways; with their double eagle feather bustles and their high kicking steps. Next are Men's Fancy dancers, recognized by their colorful regalia. The Men's Grass dancers with their striking outfits covered with long, colorful fringes follow. Theri dance movements are a sliding, shaking, and spinning motion, similar to long grass, blowing in the wind. Teens, Juniors and Tiny tots follow in their respective categories.
Following the male dancers, are the women's traditional dancers, who dance in a stately and poised manner, moving slowly and gracefully to the beat of the drum, dressed in elaborately decorated regalia with Eagle plumes worn on the back of the head and an Eagle fan in the right hand.
Next are the Woman's Fancy dancers, whose long, graceful fringed shawls are draped over their shoulders. Their twirling rapid dance steps compliment the flaring shawls. The Women's Jingle dancers follow, originally from the Objibwa Nation. This dance is recognized as a healing dance.The dress is covered with tin cones (made from stiff tin covers) and bouncy dance steps create rhythmic jingling in time of the beat of the drum. Again, teens, juniors and tiny tots follow in their respective categories.
After all the dancers are in the arbor, a flag song is sung, then a victory song. The flag bearers then proceed with the flags to the front of the arbor. After Grand Entry an opening prayer will be offered in a native language or in English. This is done out of respect for the flags and our traditional ways. It is very important for spectators to rise and remove their hats during prayer. After the prayer, the opening song starts the Pow Wow. Now the time to enjoy the Pow Wow has arrived.
Going back to the early days of the fur trade, the Pow Wow tradition is an integral part of First Nations Culture and the history of
Pow Wow participants and spectators must abstain from drugs and alcohol and demonstrate sincere respect for older and younger generations.
Dancers will participate in four separate categories: Traditional, Fancy, Grass and Jingle.
Over 300 First Nation groups from all over
Over a 100 dancers are often in attendance each day of the Pow Wow.
In addition to the traditional dancing, drums, and Princess Pageant, other events and activities include craft and food booths, traditional bannock, pancake breakfasts, various draws and raffles, and a souvenir program book.
Pow Wow time is the Native American people's way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and make new ones.
This is a time to renew thought of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage.
There are several different stories of how the Pow Wow was started. Some believe that the war dance societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains tribes were the origin of the Pow Wow.
Another belief is that when the Native Americans were forced onto reservations the government also forced them to have dances for the public to come and see. Before each dance they were lead through the town in a parade,which is the beginning of the Grand Entry.
Pow Wow singers are very important figures in the Native American culture. Without them there would be no dancing. The songs are of many varieties, from religious to war to social.
As various tribes gathered together, they would share their songs, often changing the songs so singers of different tribes could join. With these changes came the use of "vocables" to replace the words of the old songs. Thus, some songs today are sung in vocables with no words.
Yet they still hold special meaning to those who know the song. Many songs are still sung in native tongue either newly composed or revivals of old songs. These songs are reminders to the Indian people of their old ways and rich heritage.
Dancers have always been a very important part of the life of the American Indian. Most dancers seen at Pow Wows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance has not. The outfits worn by the dancers,like the styles of clothing today evolve over time, it is not a stagnant culture, but a vibrant and changing way of life.
Pow Wow 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. 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 Native Americans are now a part. The flag here also reminds people of those people who have fought for this country.
Following the veterans are other important guests of the Pow Wow including tribal chiefs, Princesses, 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 above text was originally developed by Karen Deleary and Mike Dashner for the Ann Arbor Pow Wow at the University of Michigan.