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What is a
Native American
Pow-Wow?




Pow-Wow time is Aboriginal or other wise known as the Native American Peoples getting together to join in dancing, visiting, renewing, sleeping-over, renewing old friendships and making new ones. This is a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage!

Pow-Wow singers are a very important part of the Pow-Wow. Without singers and the rhythm of the drum beat, there would be no dance. Original songs were in the native languages of the singers. Songs are many and varied: fun and festive songs; war and conquest songs; honor and family songs; spiritual songs; songs of joy and songs of mourning; having your Indian name song; and so on.

Dancing has always been a very special part of the North American Indian. Most dances seen today at Pow-Wow are "social" dances which might have had different meanings in the earlier days, but have evolved through the years to the social dances of today.

Origin Of The Pow-Wow...

A Brief Look At The Evolution And The Meaning: To clearly understand the true meaning of Pow-Wow in the context of its spirit, one must start at the beginning.... It is believed by many Natives that still practice the traditional way of life, whose roots trace back to the beginning, that nature and Native peoples spoke the same language. A common belief is that when the Creator made this world, the Creator gave in nature a uniqueness and power to each tribe. Geographically, each Nation enjoyed a very respectful and harmonious relationship with Nature as a guide and provider. The relationship with the Creator was pure and its strength was at its peak, being both visible and heard through the voices of Nature.

In times of need, guidance, and sickness, Indian peoples prayed and gave by means of spiritual fast, sweats, and sacrifice. Prayers were answered through the voices of Nature, thus establishing the Spirit of Nature and man as one. This explains the reasoning for the creation of the clan system and its respect for the balance of Nature. Each clan, like Nature, has a function and responsibility within the Nation. Both Nation and clan affiliation can be seen in color combinations, design and ornaments.

Numbers were also very important with respect to Nature and the Indian way of life. The number 4 is held sacred by most tribes in respect to the Four Cardinal Directions, as well as the Creator, in the context of the symbol of the cross. The cross has always been synonymous with the Great Spirit, even before the first Christian missionaries came to North America, and is referred to by Aboriginal peoples as the "Medicine Wheel." The Spirit of Power is held sacred in the combination of certain colors, designs, and numbers.

Eventually, songs and dances evolved around the imitation of animals and the natural forces that were held sacred. Many of these sacred dances, because of their religious significance and spirituality, are not performed in public. The Sun, Eagle, Buffalo, and Medicine dances are just a few of the many sacred dances that are still practiced. Any sacred object of ceremony of power should not be brought into the public or even discussed in open conversation. War, medicine and protection can also be included here, with the consequences being grave if respect is not kept.

When early European explorers first saw these sacred dances, they thought "Pau Wau" referred to the whole dance. Actually, its Aboriginal definition refers to the medicine people and spiritual leaders. As more Nations learned the English language, they accepted the "Pow-Wow" definition.

As mentioned before, each Nation maintained a uniqueness and power geographically, which resulted in conflicts over hunting territories. Indian wars were controlled by medicine people and spiritual leaders. One simply could not go out and fight his enemy on his terms. There were ceremonies of preparation to protect and guide the warrior. Inspiring songs, warrior speeches, and war dances were preformed.

When going into war, the leaders were distinguished by the paint they wore, and the numbers and color markings on their feathers. There was mutual honor and respect even for the enemy in battle.

It is said that in taking the life of the enemy, one captures his spirit. It is still believed that this spirit belongs to the victor along with his power. In the "Physical World" the victor gives and feeds the spirit of the victim until he enters the "Spirit World." Then the victor guides the victim into the "Spirit World" of our ancestors. That is why, even today, Elders warn against arguing or fighting with a distinguished warrior. Upon the return of the warriors, feasts for the captured and mourned spirits were held, and victory dances were performed. In the dance, re-enactments of brave deeds during battle were performed in a stately manner reminiscent (recall to memory) of the tracking of the enemy.

From this early interpretation came the origin of the war dance in its spiritual form of expression, demonstrated through footwork, smoothness, and agility. There are many beliefs and customs that are still practiced today that were and are still an integral part of the Pow-Wow.

Many of the old war dance songs are still being sung, but are considered honor songs. In some traditional communities, new songs honoring the veterans and their deeds of valor are still being composed. Through these songs, and the spirit of the drum, are communicated ancestral values, cultural integrity, solidarity, and personal relationships for future generations. Our youth is our future, and our elders are our guide.


A Guide to
Pow-Wow Etiquette



This is only to be used as a guide.



1) Dress and act appropriately. Hot pants, halter tops, swimwear, profanity and 'making out' have no place at Pow Wows. If you are going to dance anything other than open intertribals, wear your regalia.

2) Tipis are still used for living quarters, for dancers, drummers, singers or other Pow-Wow staff or participants, please do not enter, open the door, look inside, or disturb one, unless you are invited to do so by its owner or caretaker.

3) The seating around the inside of the Arena is reserved for dancers in regalia. Seats with blankets, shawls or some piece of regalia items on them are taken and should not be bothered. Do NOT sit on someone else's blanket unless invited to do so. Uncovered seats are considered available.

4) Pets should be left at home or at the very least leashed and controlled. The Dance Circle or Arena is a sacred place from the time it is blessed until the Pow Wow is over. At no time should pets be allowed in the Dance Circle, Arena or Drum areas. And by no means do not ever allow your pet under the ropes or fences around the circle.

5) Listen to the Master of Ceremonies. He/She will announce who is to dance and when. Most Pow Wows conduct Intertribals in which the public may participate. Check with the Arena Director or MC for more information.

6) Pictures should NOT be taken during Veterans Songs, Flag Songs, Prayers or any other times announced by the Master of Ceremonies. (Usually in the Northeast no pictures are allowed during the first three songs unless otherwise announced, these songs are Grand Entree, the Flag song and the Veterans Song.) If you wish to photograph a dancer in regalia, ask first. If the picture is for publication or commercial use, that should be explained before the picture is taken.

7) Respect the Head Man and Head Woman Dancers. Their role entitles them to start each song or set of songs. Please wait until they have started to dance before you join in. In some Native traditions, it is considered improper to pass the Head Man or Woman Dancer within the Dance Circle or Arena.

8) Show respect to the Flag, Honor and Veterans songs by standing until the song or songs are completed. All hats are removed, unless bestowed with an eagle feather, as a show of respect unless the hat is medically necessary.

9) Some songs require that you be familiar with the routine or have special eligibility rules in order to participate. Trot dances, snake, buffalo, etc. require particular steps or routines. Veterans dances may be restricted to Veterans, Combat Veterans or in some cases, the relations of Veterans. If you are not familiar with a particular dance, observe and learn. Do not hesitate to ask questions if you are unsure.

10) The Flag Song, or a specific Tribal National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing. Pictures are not allowed during these songs.

11) Most Pow Wows are non-profit and depend upon donations, raffles, blanket dances, etc. for support. Donations are encouraged as a way to honor someone. Any participant can drop money onto the blanket to aid in the pow-wow expenses.

13) Certain items of religious significance should be worn only by those qualified to do so. Respect the traditions. Never intentionally touch another dancers regalia, person or property without asking permission first.

14) Giveaways, attributes of Indian generosity, are held at many dances. They are acknowledgments of appreciation to recipients for honor or service given to the people. When receiving a gift, the recipient thanks everyone involved in the giving.

15) If you wish to ask for a special song from a drum, talk to the M-C or Area Director first and make sure the M-C is informed. It is traditional to make a gift (monetary, tobacco, or otherwise) to the Drum for special requests.

16) Before sitting at a drum, ask permission from the Head singer. Do not touch a drum or drum stick without prior permission. If you have any questions about a particular song you have heard, please feel free ask.

17) If at any time you are uncertain of procedure, etc., please check with the M-C, Arena Director, or one of the Head Singers. They will be glad to help you with your questions.

18) Unless you are sure spectator seating will be provided, bring a chair. Remember that the seating immediately around the Dance Circle or Arena is for dancers or elders only.

19) Alcohol, recreational drugs and firearms are prohibited at ALL of the Pow Wows that the NH Interteribal Council, Mother Earth Creations, and L.I.H.A. does.

20) If you see a lost feather, or you yourself drop a feather, DO NOT pick it up. Notify the nearest Veteran, the Head Veteran, Head Man Dancer or Arena Director immediately. However if the feather is an Eagle feather, once it is picked up it may be given to an elder to keep, or it may be kept by the veteran that picks it up.

21) Before dancing barefoot speak with the M-C or arena director. At some events (Especially western Pow-Wow's) this may only be done by Sundancers known to the organizers.

22) In some places it is OK for adults to dance while carrying infants or small children. In other places this is considered contrary to local etiquette. Ask before doing so.

23) If you have a question, please ask. The only dumb question is one that was not asked, when needed. Most dancers, singers, elders and staff are happy to help. Offer a cold drink or other small, symbolic gift to those who help you.

24) Trash goes in the recepticals provided. As well as cigarettes. Any trash or cigarettes dropped on the ground is considered disrespectful. Especially to the organization that is putting on the event.




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