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Guide to Native American Powwow Etiquette

Updated on February 22, 2015

Powwows are a place that American Indians gather to celebrate their heritage and culture. It can be an exciting time to learn more about various traditions among American Indian Nations. Although you are encouraged to have a good time and enjoy yourself, there are certain etiquette's that must be observed. This can be simply out of respect for others to doing things that are just customary when attending powwows.

Listen

By listening you will be able to learn more about what is going on. Not only will you learn about what is going on at the powwow but about many Native traditions as well. If you have no interests in learning, at least have enough respect to be quiet when the MC (Master of Ceremonies), the Arena Director, or someone else is speaking through the sound system. Whether you are interested in what is being said or not, others may be trying to listen. By talking during these times, it is distracting for others and just simply rude.

Never Touch a Dancer's Regalia

Although you will see dancers in outfits of an array of bright, beautiful colors, this isn't an invitation to touch. The outfits they wear are generally expensive and are handmade. They took much pride in making their regalia. Have respect for the dancer and remember that dancers are human beings just like you and you are not at a petting zoo. Also understand that it is ill-advised to refer to a dancer's regalia as a costume. This is not Halloween; this is a cultural event steeped in tradition.

Check out the article in Indian Country Today on Top 10 Powwow Do's and Don'ts.
Check out the article in Indian Country Today on Top 10 Powwow Do's and Don'ts. | Source

Knowing When You Can Take Pictures

There are times when taking pictures are strictly forbidden. Grand Entry is considered one of those times. This is a sacred time and the powwow cannot move on until this tradition is carried out. The MC will remind you of this. Although, in recent years some exceptions have been made by the powwow committee for promotional work. When in doubt, check with the MC, the Arena Director, or someone on the powwow committee before taking any pictures.

However, it is okay to take pictures during inter-tribal. If you will listen to the MC, he will announce when you may take pictures and when you may not. If you are caught taking pictures when it is forbidden, they may confiscate your film or have you to delete the pictures. If you continue to take pictures, some powwows will ask you to leave.

Do not take pictures without permission. Although the dancers and the other participants may look like a piece of art, it is disrespectful to take pictures without prior permission. Most people don't like for random people to start taking pictures of them, so why should the participants?

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Mother's Day Powwow 2009 Huntsville, Alabama
Mother's Day Powwow 2009 Huntsville, Alabama
Mother's Day Powwow 2009 Huntsville, Alabama | Source

Have Respect for the Dance Arena

After the dance arena has been blessed, it is considered sacred ground. Please do not use it as a short-cut to the other side. Also, please do not throw trash or other items in the arena. Another thing to remember is if you bring your pet, keep it out of the arena. Keep a watchful eye on your children. Children should not be allowed to play in the arena. They are more than welcome to dance at appropriate times, but playing in the dance arena is forbidden.

Knowing When to Stand

Again, listen to the MC. He will remind you of the proper time to stand. However, you always stand and remove your hat during Grand Entry, Prayer, Honor Songs, Flag Songs, Veteran Songs, and Memorial Songs. Please note, that you should also teach your children this. As long as your child can physically stand, he or she should be standing. Although children, they should not be exempt from showing respect.

Head Lady Dancer, Siouxsan Robinson (Lakota Blackfoot), & Head Man Dancer, Charles Robinson (Choctaw)
Head Lady Dancer, Siouxsan Robinson (Lakota Blackfoot), & Head Man Dancer, Charles Robinson (Choctaw)

Respect the Head Man and Head Lady

The Head Man and Head Lady always lead the dances. It is tradition not to start dancing before they do. They have earned the honor to be in this position and should be respected accordingly. At some powwows, it is taboo to pass the head man or head lady when dancing. However, some powwows are more relaxed about this. When in doubt, ask the Arena Director.

No Alcohol, Drugs, or Firearms

All powwows are drug, alcohol, and firearm free. Do not bring any of this to the powwows. Do not come to a powwow while intoxicated or under the influence of any illegal substance. You will be asked to leave.

Dress Appropriately

Dressing appropriately is also very important. This is not a place to show cleavage or wear really short shorts. It is also frowned upon to wear a shirt that shows the mid-drift. Wear clothing that fits properly. Don't wear anything too baggy or too tight.

Knowing Where to Sit

Many times you will find benches or chairs surrounding the circle. You may also find canopies constructed to shade from the sun. These are not for necessarily for the spectators to sit. These areas are for the dancers and their families. Feel free to bring your own chair, but be respectful of the participants and where they are sitting.

Animals

If you choose to bring your family pet, make sure you keep it on a short leash. Pets are not allowed in the arena, so be mindful when being close to the circle. Also, bring bags to clean up after your pet. No one wants to step in your pets waste. The footwear the dancers wear isn't cheap and cannot easily be replaced. Stepping in your pets waste will ruin their footwear. Other spectators don't take too kindly in stepping in it either.

Children

Children are very much encouraged to attend a powwow. However, you must keep up with them. Do not allow them to run all over the place. Again, do not allow them to play inside the arena. They are encouraged to dance in inter-tribal and other dances the MC announces that they may participate in but remember it isn't a playground. Be mindful of your child's little hands. Do not allow them to throw debris in the arena. Encourage your child to enjoy him or herself, but also teach them to do so in a respectful way.

Do Not Litter

Littering is disrespectful no matter where you are at. There are trash cans across the grounds, so please use them. This goes for cigarette butts as well. First be sure the cigarette is completely out and discard appropriately, not on the ground.

These are just the basic etiquette's involved in attending powwows. Remember to always listen to the person speaking. When you aren't sure of what you should and shouldn't do, feel free to ask the Master of Ceremonies or the Arena Director. They will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

© 2015 Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan

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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      No matter what the event a person should follow the rules and be respectful. Sharing

    • LindaSarhan profile image
      Author

      Linda Soaring Eagle Sarhan 2 years ago

      Agreed and thanks for sharing. :) Probably one of the most annoying things I have encountered as a dancer at powwows is the kids with the pea shooters and their parents allowing them to shoot those things and the dancers and other people, or in general for that matter.

    • momsdoworkathome profile image

      Katina Davenport 2 years ago from Michigan

      I am discovering more and more about Native American traditions as I research my ancestery and my children's ancestry. Their great grandfather is Native American however he is deceased, and my mother in law doesn't know much. Eventually we will be taking our children to a powwow to show them their heritage. This is good information and I am sharing this with my husband.

    • MonkeyShine75 profile image

      Mara Alexander 2 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Great hub that I voted up

      I've been to Indian sweat lodges, where we all entered a tent and in the middle there was a low hot fire which caused us to sweat, and some said they saw visions.

      I love being with the Indians because I have learned a lot from them about being spiritual

      Thanks for sharing

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