WHAT IS A POW WOW?
To explain just what is a Pow Wow is not an easy task. To list the things that go on at a Pow Wow would be part of it but only the feelings and emotions felt by the participants can tell what a Pow Wow really is. Since the Pow Wow is part of the American Indian culture, perhaps it would be best to hear what a young woman raised on a Ho-Chunk reservation thinks about when she thinks of “Pow Wow”.
“A Pow Wow is a tradition for each tribe, a time when old customs and ways are brought to the forefront. More than anything else Pow Wow time is a coming home time, a gathering together of relatives, tribal friends and friends from other tribes. During the Pow Wow different traditional dances and ceremonies are held. When the more formal aspects of the Pow Wow finish in the evening, the round dancing continues often for the entire night.
The last night of the Pow Wow the round dancers go to all the tents on the Pow Wow grounds and receive food donations for a farewell feast the next day. A Pow Wow is songs, dancing, bright regalia (traditional Native dress), feasting, drums, bells, fry bread, corn soup, tipis, beadwork and much more. Over all what Pow Wow really is – is a great circle of warmth generated by friendship, kinship, love and acceptance”.
Though this description is of the Ho-Chunk Pow Wow it is fairly representative of the activities which occur at almost all Pow Wows and very warmly expresses the joy, pride, dignity and love that is a part of everyone.
The Indians of the North America, the Native Americans, have held Pow Wows for hundreds of years. They were predominately a feature of the Plains Indian Culture and were common to such tribes as the Cheyenne, Sioux or Lakota, Crow, Blackfeet and others on the Northern Plains, and Kiowa, Omaha, Ponca, Commanche and Otoe on the Southern Plains. Though each tribe developed somewhat different patterns of dress, beliefs, ceremonies, and tribal organization, they were all basically similar and they all held Pow Wows.
During the winter months the bitter weather of the Plains made hunting and traveling very difficult and caused the Indians to reside in small bands usually related by family or clan ties. But during the summer months the game was plentiful and the various bands of each tribe came together for the large buffalo hunts, the major ceremonies of the tribe, and the Pow Wows.
These summer gatherings would bring together all the Indians of each tribe. It was a time of celebration, a time for the leaders of all the bands to meet and discuss the business of the tribe, a time for sharing of stories about great hunting feats and raiding parties, and a time of the telling of visions and signing of songs which held many powers and spoke of the deeds of fallen brothers and ancestors gone before. The Pow Wow time was traditionally a time of happiness, thankfulness and great feelings of pride in the honoring of friends and elders. But most of all, it was a time of music and dancing.
The spirit of these Pow Wows has come down through history and is still felt at the dances held today. The Native Americans continue to hold their Pow Wows with the old traditions and the new ideas side by side. The Pow Wow has, in modern time, spread to all of the Native American groups across the United States. A sense of Pan-Indianism has developed and the dress and many of the costumes that were once common only to the Plains Tribes have been adopted by all Native Americans.
The Northern Pow Wow is less formal than the Southern and is begun with a grand march of all dancers into the arena or arbor. The singers are located at the side of the arbor to the north of the center point. The men dancers dance in a counter-clockwise direction on the outer portion of the arbor with the women dancing in clockwise direction inside the men. At the end of the dance the singers “sing out” the drum by circling the arbor while singing the last song over and over until they reach the doorway on the east side and exit.
A Southern dance is more formal and all dancers are led by a pair of head dancers. The singers are located in the center of the arbor and all dancers dance in a clockwise direction around them. The music, costuming and basic dance steps are different from the Northern style dance.
Though these are only a very few of the basic differences between the two styles, it gives the casual observer a few basic points of distinction.
PLEASE NOTE: REGALIA, ARTIFACTS OR ITEMS ASSOCIATED WITH REGALIA AND DANCE ARE NOT TO BE TOUCHED UNLESS INVITED TO DO SO OR PERMISSION AS BEEN GIVEN BY THE OWNER.
For those of you that have never been to a Pow Wow.
An important person at any Pow Wow is the Emcee. Like the modern day master of ceremonies, a Pow Wow M.C. has a very important job to perform. He is the person who has the full knowledge of the Pow Wow, its program and etiquette. He can make a Pow Wow successful by keeping the dancers and spectators under control and keeping the dance program moving at an even pace. He announces each phase of the dance, explains the various activities to the spectators, and provides a bit of color to the Pow Wow program by encouraging the dancers, telling stories and jokes, and announcing the different contests and special dances.
Flag Song and……
Most Pow Wows are begun with a flag song or Indian National Anthem. This is a patriotic song sung in native language and accompanies the raising of the American Flag over the dance arbor. Patriotism and valor are highly regarded traits among the American Indians and they have a great respect for their country. This sense of responsibility and feeling of honor toward this land is apparent in the translation from the Lakota National Anthem: “The Flag of the United States will fly forever underneath it, the Indian will grow”.
The flag song is usually followed by a veterans honoring song. Among the Indians the characteristics of bravery and valor in battle are still highly regarded, and the Veterans Song is sung to honor all those who have been in the armed services and especially those who have fallen in battle. The singers sing a special honoring song to which only veterans, and sometimes their families may dance. All other dancers and spectators stand in silence during both of these songs, the Flag Song and the Veterans Song.
Pow Wow Music
At a Plains Indian Pow Wow the singers are the all important ingredient. It is they who provide the music and the music dictates the course the dance will take.
The majority of Pow Wow songs consist of a set of phrases which are repeated a number of times. These phrases can either be made up of words or meaningless syllables called vocables, or a combination of both. If the song has words they are frequently related to war deeds.
There are several different song categories each with a slightly different form and each containing many songs. The largest song category is the War Dance. The songs are also known as Grass Dance or Omaha dances depending on which area and tribes are being considered. These songs have constant drum beat with some beats being accented at designated points in the song. These are called honor beats and depending on the dance style may require specific actions on the part of the dancers. During these songs the dancers are more or less free to dance as they wish while staying within the style of their costumes and in time with the drum.
There are two major styles of singing Northern and Southern, each named for the geographic location in which each predominates. For the casual observer the following is offered as a guide to distinguish between the two. In the Southern style the singers begin in a lower key than those in the North and sing the song through on the average three or four times. On the other hand, Northern singers begin singing at a considerably higher pitch and sing the songs through more times than is customary in the South; usually taking their cue from the enthusiasm of the dancers. In both cases, the songs are sung on a descending register.
Contents of this Educational Page
Note: you can click on each topic and it will take you to that topic on this page.
Most Pow Wows are put on as a non-profit operations and the cost must be from the committee and sponsors. In addition, the singers often travel hundreds and thousands of miles to sing at a Pow Wow and the only payment they receive is the gifts they get at a blanket dance.
For one or two special songs during a dance session a blanket is placed on the ground near the center of the arbor. To show their appreciation for the fine music the dancers throw money on the blanket as they dance by. When the music is good and the dancers feel good, they give more money. Many times spectators and other non-dancers will walk to the blanket and show their appreciation for the fine singing and dancing by laying down a gift. The blanket is picked up after the set of songs and given to the head singer. He will usually distribute the money to the other singers after the dance.
In round dances the dancers move in rows of circles, clockwise round the drum. This dance is done with a side to side step. Round dances can be seen at the beginning of a Pow Wow only. This is one of the few dances in which women and men take an equal part.
SNAKE & BUFFALO
The snake and buffalo dance is just what it implies. The dancers follow each other in single file intricately moving in and out in a snake-like manner. The snake dance is modern social dancing. The buffalo dance always follows the snake dance and is done to honor the buffalo. At the end of the snake dance the dancers disperse in all directions away from the drum. While the dancers are milling around the arena the thunder drumming slows down to a steady beat. At this time, the dancers do a bouncing step and at the drum pause, move in toward the drum and continue dancing in the area. This is repeated a various number of times during the dance.
THE TWO STEP
The two step is somewhat like the White man’s square dance from which it was probably derived. The men and women pair off in couples and follow the different pattern movements. This particular dance is one of the few dances which the Indians dance in couples. It is much more enjoyable to participate in the two-step than to simply be an onlooker.
POW WOW ETIQUETTE
Pow Wow’s are run according to ancient traditions common to most tribes. Pow Wow etiquette is common sense and consideration for others, Indian style. Without these traditions all Pow Wows would be unorganized; with them, Indians from many tribes can join together in common celebration and great fun.
Though many of the aspects of Pow Wows have already been discussed, the following points of Pow Wow etiquette will help you to understand the happening and prevent you from doing something incorrectly which may cause embarrassment or offend someone.
Make new friends! Introduce yourself to other dancers in the Arbor; it is expected. Before and after the Pow Wow be available to meet visitors to the dance. Take pride if they wish to photograph you.
One of the major characteristics of the Southern style Pow Wow is the presence of a men’s and women’s head dancer. Those are honored positions and the persons invited to fill them are usually the finest dancers or persons in the Indian community. The head dancers begin the dancing for each set of songs and no one else should dance before the head dancers begin. These two usually lead all special dances such as the “two-step”.
Because the individuals asked to be head dancers are honored by their selection they often times will have a “give away” to show their appreciation and give their thanks to their friends at the dance.
Another frequent occurrence at both Northern and Southern style Pow Wows is the honoring dance. If an individual family or group of persons wishes to honor someone be they living or deceased, they buy a dance for them. This is a great honor and sometimes the singers will even give a song to an individual or family which is especially for them.
If an honor song is to be given, the individual who wishes to give it pays the drum with money or a gift. The drum will then sing a special song while the one being honored will begin to dance around the arbor. They are usually accompanied by their family and special friends only for the first time around the arbor. On the second revolution, all the dancers join behind and dance around the arbor until the song is ended. At this time, especially at Southern Pow Wows, many of the dancers line up to congratulate the honored person and present him or her with a gift of money. This will appear to the uninitiated to be very similar to a receiving line at a modern wedding.
Among the American Indian the spirit of giving is very important. If an Indian feels good or is thankful for anything, he usually displays these good feelings by giving gifts to his friends and bothers and sisters. This can be done either in an informal private fashion or at a formal “give-away”. These give-aways are held during the dances at the Pow Wow and consist of an honoring song followed by the honored one giving gifts to those he chooses. This may be to only a few close friends or sometimes to nearly everyone at the dance.
Among the Indians an individual who gives away often and in great amounts is considered to be a good person and is highly respected. This custom has been perpetrated from tradition, for in the olden days the leaders of the tribes appeared to have the least amount of possessions for they gave away to and fed many persons.
Give-aways are also customarily held by families when one of their children enter the war dance for the first time, when a veteran returns from the service, or when a relative or elder has passed on. Though give-aways appear to take up a lot of time at the Pow Wows and are not that interesting to the spectator, they are a major facet of the Indian Pow Wow and are important to the total spirit of the dance.
MEN’S SOUTHERN STRAIGHT
Southern Straight Dance is known as a traditional dance. This tells a story of a hunting or war party on the trail of an enemy or animal. When the trail is sighted an exuberant “WHOOP” is given and the warrior begins to follow the signs to his prey. Each dancer’s steps of movements and tracking style is very detailed and personalized. Dress usually includes a porcupine quill head dress, ribbonwork on shirt and aprons. An otter drag extending down the back of the dancer. Singers may add new songs so the dancer must be very attentive to the song to interpret correctly and end the song on time.
This is typically a “Story Dance”. The story is usually about the hunt or a war party on the prowl. Then dancers will act out their conquests or perhaps a legend of a conquest.
Traditionally a Northern tribal dance. The difference in a fast Northern or slower Southern drum usually makes for separate events. A Northern dance is different in that the dancer will stand in one place dipping and lightly bouncing and turning to the beat of the drum.
At a given time during the song, the dancer salutes the drum with her fan in an expression, “the catching of the spirit of the drum”. The steps are unique to the regalia and the buckskins prized possessions. To make and complete the dress can take several years, with intricate beadwork to be designed and worked onto the skin. The same dress may have been handed down thru the families.
MEN’S FANCY WAR DANCE
The “Men’s Fancy” is one of the most spectacular of dances to view feathers flying, bells and rattles sounding and gyrating bodies and feet that barely touch the ground! The dancer follows the rhythm of the drum with his steps, head movement and the flow of his body.
Many young men long to be “Fancy Dancers”. This is usually the most popular of men’s dances and exhibition dances in general. The dance has its roots in the traditional Northern and Southern steps, but is far more strenuous and fast-paced. It has become a way of recalling deep-seated feelings and traditions, thereby passing on a sense of pride to future generations.
LADIES FANCY SHAWL
In this, the most modern of the ladies dances, young women have the opportunity to demonstrate their agility and grace. Many of the moves are very intricate, the steps individual, but always in harmony with the drum. Look closely, her steps and movements may resemble a soaring bird one moment, a prancing deer the next. It also represents a butterfly coming out of her cocoon to fly across Mother Earth in all her beauty. The “Fancy Shawl” involves more motion and agility, but is always gracefully expressed.
Fancy Shawl dresses are brilliantly colored, and often adorned with custom designed beadwork or appliqué that is echoed on the shawl, leggings, moccasins, purse and jewelry. Shawls are trimmed in ribbon, fringe and beading.
The Men’s Traditional Dance is of a warrior recounting his feats for the tribe and may be the original dance to the Indians of the Northern Plains. Personal variations allow for much individual style and expression of the dancer. This makes it a dance that continues to grow in popularity in many different tribes.
This dance is similar to the Southern Straight with the primary interest heightened by the use of a long “Coupstick” and the motion of the feather bustles. The dancers will have one bustle set on the lower part of their backs. Faces are painted to intimidate the imaginary opponent with the fierceness of the brave with the dance mimicking each element that makes up his regalia. He will always face his enemy, never turning in a complete circle. Try to interpret each motion and compare the different ways the dancers imitate the Eagle and other animals.
LADIES SOUTHERN CLOTH
Sometimes called the perfect female counterpart to the Men’s Southern Straight Dance. This dance is more one of elegance than of motion. Individual style, expressed in a slow, graceful walk, makes this a very regal dance. The fringed shawl on the arm must sway in exact harmony to her body and stepping to the beat of the drum.
A dancer’s individual tribe and expression of style will be reflected in her dress, leggings made of buckskin or cloth, moccasins and accessories. Accessories include a breastplate, made of tubular bone, glass beads and a feather fan. Often her personalized beadwork was done by herself or a family member and became her design alone. Tin cones on her belt, apron or moccasins may provide a delicate jingle to her step.
GRASS DANCER ALIAS RIBBON OR CRAZY DANCER WHICH THEY ARE SOMETIMES CALLED.
This style is kind of a bridge between traditional style and Modern Fancy Dancer.
It originated from Canada down through Montana and the Dakota’s. As you can see by the outfit, the basics are shirt and pants with lots of ribbons and beadwork to adorn it. Some of the articles worn lean toward traditional except for the feathered bustle which is absent in this style. The balance leans toward the more modern up to date Fancy Dancer, again leaving off the bustle.
One reason these dancers were called Grass Dancers is self explanatory. These men were the first in the dance ring and danced the grass down before the rest of the Dancers entered.
STRAIGHT DANCING is a Southern style of dancing, which is somewhat of an old style as well as being new. This is to say; you can find an older version of this outfit as well as a modern one.
Old Traditional southern dress is acceptable as well as bright and flashy modern outfits. Sometimes you will see a combination of both.
The style of dancing is similar to traditional style. But at some time period, some of the dancers were dancing with more of a straight posture, so hence forth they have been called to this day.
Temple Terrace Elementary School, Temple Terrace, Florida
Great American Teach-in
Our goals are to perpetuate the culture, history, tradition and religion of the Cherokee people and all Native Americans. To protect and care for Mother Earth and All Creations. To educate not only our decendants, but others who have a desire to learn the Cherokee way and Native American culture.
There are tribal members that assist with the Boy Scouts of America -"Indian Lore" weekend and members visit local schools in their areas to educate and enlighten children. The children are our future. The children are the future of Mother Earth.
Below is a book that was created by a teacher and her 17 students in thanks for a visit to her classroom. What a beautiful gift and it will be cherished always.
Below is a slideshow of the book..just click on the first page and the slideshow will begin.
Thank you to the students of Ms. Smalley's 2nd grade class at Temple Terrace Elementary in Tampa, Florida
Lee "Uwoyeni" and Anne "Night Wind" Billingsley
spend the weekend with a Boy Scout Troop or two teaching, of course, Indian Lore
As for what we do on those weekends... hm... we break the group into 4 sessions so that at the end of the weekend all the scouts will have all the requirements needed for their Indian Lore merit badge.
There is a teaching session around the fire where we discuss history, tell some stories & answer questions.
There is a crafts session where the scouts make 3 projects.
There is a games session where traditional Cherokee games are taught, then there is a language session where we teach about 25 Cherokee words & phrases.
In the evening we do a mini-powwow with drumming & dancing.
The event is always well-attended & the scouts seem to have lots of fun with it.
Many people are needed to make this event come together, & they all seem to make it happen smoothly & with good spirits.
From Lee Uwoyeni Billingsley….April 13, 2012
Dancing and Drumming in the evening for the mini- Pow Wow.
We look forward to Indian Lore every year. We spend the weekend running the program & running one step ahead of the scouts. We all learn something, whether staff or scout or leader & have many good memories to relive until next year. Having fun, learning, not worrying about how the event is run - does it get any better than that?
HA-DE (hah-day) "NO"!
Lee uwoyeni Billingsley
Anne Night Wind Billingsley