What is a Pow Wow

Pow-Wow time is the Native American people's way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making 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 led 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 religion 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 ways of rich heritage.

Dancers have always been a very important part of the life of the American Indian. Most dancers seen at the Pow-Wows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changes, their meaning and importance has not. The outfits worn by dancers, like the style of clothing today evolve over time; it is not a stagnant culture, but a vibrant and changing way of life.

Pow-Wows are organized by committees that work for weeks and months 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 with 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 US flag in an honored position despite the horrible treatment received against 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 a symbol of the US which Native Americans are now a part of. The flag here also reminds people of those who have fought for this country.

Following the veterans are other important guests of the Pow-Wow including tribal chiefs, Princesses, elders and the 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 veterans. After 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.

Pow Wow Etiquette

Click Here to View/Download Pow Wow Etiquette

1. Be on time. The Committee is doing everything possible to ensure that activities begin and run smoothly. Please cooperate in this regard.

2. Appropriate dress and behavior is required in the Arena. Anyone unwilling to abide by this rule will be asked to leave by the Arena Director.( If you are going to dance, try to wear dance clothes.)

3. Arena benches are reserved for dancers. Dancers wishing to reserve a space on the bench should place a blanket in that space before the dance begins. Please do not sit on someone else's blanket unless invited. Uncovered benches are considered unreserved.

4. Listen to the MC. He will announce who is to dance, and when.

5. Respect the position of 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.

6. Dance as long and as hard as you can. When not dancing, be quiet and respect the Arena.

7. Be aware that someone standing behind you may not be able to see over you. Make room, step aside, sit or kneel if someone is behind you.

8. Show respect to the flag and honor songs by standing during the "Special" songs, stand in place until the sponsors of the song have danced a complete circle and have come around you, then join in. If you are not dancing, continue to stand quietly until the song is completed.

9. While dancing at any Pow-wow, honor the protocol of the sponsorship group.

10. Some songs require that you dance only if you are familiar with the routine or are eligible to participate. Trot dances, snake buffalo, etc. require particular steps or routines. If you are not familiar with these dances, observe and learn. Watch the head Dancers to learn the procedures. Only Veterans are permitted to dance some Vet songs, unless stated; listen to the MC for instructions.

11. The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during this song. It is not a song for dancing.

12. Pow-Wows are usually non-profit. It depends 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. Support the Committee and buy raffle tickets or buy at the auction.

13. Certain items of religious significance should be worn only by those qualified to do so. Respect traditions.

14. Giveaways, an attribute of Indian generosity, are held at many dances. They are acknowledgments of appreciation to recipients for honor given. When receiving a gift, please acknowledge the recipient, and then everyone involved in the giving. Note: All specials and giveaways must be coordinated with the MC. Please remember that is traditional to make a monetary contribution to the Drum for this request-clear this through the MC.

15. The Drums are sometimes closed, check with the Head singer for permission to sing.

16. If at any time you are certain of procedure or etiquette, please check with the MC, Arena Director or Head singer. They will be glad to help you with your questions.

17. Take a chair. Most Pow-Wows will not have enough seating for the public or enough seating for everyone.

18. No Alcohol or drugs are allowed at Pow-Wows.

19. If taking pictures, please ask the dancer first. Remember common courtesy and ask permission. Group photos are usually alright to take, but you might want to ask the Committee first.

20. Remember that in each area you travel to and visit, things can and will be slightly different than your area. Different groups have different customs and methods of doing things. Different is not wrong, just different. Be respectful of the uniqueness of each area.