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Great PowWow When American Indian Nations Gather

Updated on January 20, 2016
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis has a strong affinity for Native American traditions, beliefs, and spirituality.

Eagle Staff leads the Grand Entry ~

A PowWow Grand Entry.
A PowWow Grand Entry. | Source

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA ~

Every year, during the last full weekend of April, people of the American Indian tribes start getting together their finest regalia (specially decorated attire and headdresses for powwows), practice their songs, dances and prepare for the "Gathering of Nations".

Some may have been preparing for this event for weeks or even months, for it is huge and draws people from all over the country. The Gathering of Nations, a huge powwow, is held annually at the sports arena of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, USA.

This is an event that thousands of people attend, both Native Americans and non-Native Americans. It is an event that brings all people together for an outstanding performance of all the traditional Native American dances. It is charged with spirituality, exceptional talent and awe inspiring regalia (attire).

Attending a powwow is a memorable and inspirational experience ~

Indian Traders Market ~

The Indian traders market is huge. There are so many vendors there with some of the best native arts and crafts in the country! AND - good things to eat!

Although some powwows are not open to everybody, this one is and all are welcome, whether of Native American lineage or not. If you love authentical Native American made crafts and paintings, for your own collection, or for gifting, this is a wonderful place to find just about anything you want.

In the food stands, there is all you will need to keep you going all weekend on good eats. Be sure and look for a booth that offers fry bread. Each tribe has their own version of fry bread and Indian tacos -- it is so good and you will be sure to go back for more.

Indian taco ~

Also called fry bread taco or Navajo taco. It is fry bread topped with beans, meat, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Delicious !
Also called fry bread taco or Navajo taco. It is fry bread topped with beans, meat, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Delicious ! | Source

Organizing a Powwow ~

There are many people involved in the planning and organizing of a powwow and it can take months or up to a year for the powwow committee to complete the task. Then there is the Head Staff who actually run the event during the powwow. It is a great honor to be chosen as a member of this staff, for it shows respect for the person’s skills and dedication.

The Arena Director is the person who is in charge during the event. He or she makes sure the dancers are dancing and that the drum groups know which songs to play and sing. For the competition dances, the Director is responsible for providing the judges. During the powwow, the Director is responsible for any special ceremonies, such as the dropping of an eagle feather. This requires deep respect from everyone for the feather must be retrieved by a designated person who presents it to a veteran. This is a special honor.

The Master of Ceremonies is considered the voice of the powwow. He is the one to keep the dancers, singers and public informed as to what is going on during the event. He also is in charge of which drum is to play when it is their rotation turn and the schedule of events.

The Head Dancers are the highlight of the powwow. There are many of them, which include the Head Man Dancer, the Head Woman Dancer, the Head Teen Dancers, Head Little Boy, Head Little Girl and the Head Golden Age (or Elder) Dancers. If there is to be a Gourd Dance during the powwow, there is also a Head Gourd Dancer. These Head Dancers lead the way for the other dancers during the Grand Entry that opens the powwow.

The Host Drum (group of performers) play a large and specially designed drum and sing the traditional songs. Guest Drum groups will play when it is their turn in the rotation designated by the Master of Ceremonies.

The Host Drum is responsible for the songs at the beginning and end of the powwow. They perform the starting song, the Grand Entry song, the flag son, and the veteran’s song. These are the songs that start the powwow. The flag song, retreat song and closing song are also performed by the Host Drum that ends the powwow session. During the powwow, the Host Drum is often called upon to sing special songs.

The set up for the powwow consists of large circles. In the center is the dance arena. Outside the dance arena is a larger circle for the Master of Ceremonies and his table, the drum groups, and sitting areas for dancers and their families. Outside the two circles for the participants is the area for spectators and outside of all is the area for the vendor booths. The vendors sell items such as food, music, beadwork, arts and crafts, leather, supplies for making regalia, and other Native American related items.

Children get involved in powwows, too ~

A boy in Grass Dance regalia, Spokane, WA, 2007
A boy in Grass Dance regalia, Spokane, WA, 2007 | Source
Girls' shawl dance, Montana, 2007
Girls' shawl dance, Montana, 2007 | Source

What is the purpose of a powwow ?

Native American people are deeply spiritual. Their songs and dances touch upon the spiritual symbolism that is a part of their daily life.

PowWows are a celebration of life, heritage, language and culture of the Indian of North America. A powwow is an event organized and performed by Native Americans. It is a time for nations to share, celebrate and perform with their cultural dances and songs, to meet once again with old friends, renew their bonds and meet new friends. It is a sacred, spiritual and social event that over time has come to mean more each year to the people of the nations. A nation, in reference to American Indians, is all the tribes that belong to one culture, such as Cherokee or the Sioux. There are many different powwow styles, hundreds of distinct songs, dances and traditions that identify each nation.

It is a great, fun event to attend and one will feel the power, the excitement, the sacredness of the ceremonial dances, the songs and most of all the vibrations of the drums that beat a lasting impression into your mind. It leaves one with a deep respect for these cultures and pounds into your heart with each echo of the drum an experience not soon to be forgotten.

Although the songs, dances and storytelling have been shared among tribes for thousands of years, powwows have come into the social gathering tradition only recently, beginning with a few around the early twentieth century in the Great Lakes area and rapidly growing to events being held annually all over the country. This one huge event draws many of the nations together for contests and celebrations.

A powwow is a spiritual legacy that keeps the Native American heritage alive -- it carries on the traditions of their cultures. There is a sacred element involved in all powwows and this is to be treated with respect and honor by all participants as well as observers. For instance, if an eagle feather falls from a dancer's regalia (attire), it is a sign that represents a fallen warrior. It will be retrieved in a ceremonial way and presented to a veteran. This is a sacred function and there is to be no photographing of this event because of the respect that must be shown to the participants.

Grand Entry ~

Grand Entry at Omaha PowWow, 1983
Grand Entry at Omaha PowWow, 1983 | Source

Grand Entry and Prayer

The Grand Entry and a prayer open the ceremonies. The Eagle Staff is always first in this impressive procession and are carried by veterans or military participants. Then the flags (also carried by veterans) are brought in followed by the dancers, with the Head Dancers leading the others. The bright colors and creative designs of the regalia is a breathtakingly beautiful sight to watch.

The Host Drum sings the opening song as the participants are entering. This is a sacred event and where all others are quiet during this ritual.

Behind the Head Dancers, the order of the other dancers is specific: the Men’s Traditional, Men’s Grass Dance, Men’s Fancy, Women’s Traditional, Women’s Jingle, and Women’s Fancy. Teens and small children follow in the same order.

After the Grand Entry, the Master of Ceremonies will invite a respected member of the community to give an invocation. A Flag Song is then sung, followed by a Veteran’s (or Victory) Song. During this last opening song the flags and staffs are set in place at the Master of Ceremonies table.

Then the dancing begins! Such fascinating footwork, beautiful attire, and talented dancers will be breathtaking.

Men's Traditional Dance ~

Last Chance Community Pow Wow 2007, Helena, Montana.  Note the elaborate work that is put into the bustle for the men's regalia.
Last Chance Community Pow Wow 2007, Helena, Montana. Note the elaborate work that is put into the bustle for the men's regalia. | Source

Women's Traditional Dancer ~

Last Chance Community Pow Wow 2007, Helena, Montana.  The women's regalia is incredibly beautiful.
Last Chance Community Pow Wow 2007, Helena, Montana. The women's regalia is incredibly beautiful. | Source

Etiquette ~

There are certain powwow etiquette and rules that must be abided by and respected by all. The utmost importance of these is 'Respect'. Respect and listen to the Master of Ceremonies.

Stand and remove your hats during the entry of the eagle feather standard which is followed by the tribal chiefs and the esteemed elders, finally by a procession of all the dancers. Do not point to anyone (this is considered rude at all times, anywhere), use a subtle motion of your chin when bringing something to the attention of a person you are talking with. Do not take any photographs. Do not touch the regalia of the dancers. Do not enter the circle of dancers and drums unless you are invited.

More than likely there will be other rules and etiquette to follow. This may seem quite rigid, however, it is part of the sacredness of the powwow and shows deep respect. If you are uncertain as to what is expected of you, ask a powwow volunteer or find an information booth. Be aware of the etiquette expected and most of all prepare to have fun and enjoy this great experience!

Echos Of The Drum ~

The Drums are of major importance to any powwow. Drums are considered sacred by the Native Americans and are thought to have a spirit of their own. They represent the thunder of Wakan Tanka (The Great Spirit), and the beating of the heart of Mother Earth. It denotes courage, strength and a spiritual quality that vibrates through every soul present and carries up to the Great Spirit the messages, prayers, gratefulness and joys of the people.

The "Drum" not only refers to the instrument the musicians beat on to accompany the dancing and singing, but to the circle of musicians and the drums from each Nation. There are contests to choose the best "Drum" (The Circle of Drums) and the different circles take turns accompanying each dance.

There is an Abenaki Legend about the drum which says:

It is said that when Creator was giving a place for all the spirits to dwell who would be taking part in the inhabitants of Mother Earth, there came a sound, a loud BOOM, from off in the distance.

As Creator listened, the sound kept coming closer and closer until finally it was right in front of Creator. "Who are you?" asked Creator. "I am the spirit of the drum" was the reply. "I have come here to ask you to allow me to take part in this wonderful thing." "How will you take part?" Creator questioned."

"I would like to accompany the singing of the people. When they sing from their hearts, I will also sing as though I was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. In that way, all creation will sing in harmony." C

Creator granted the request, and from then on, the drum accompanied the people's voices.


So, if you are heading to a powwow, make sure you wear your best moccasins and follow the echos of the drum.

~ ~ ~ ~

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns


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