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Native American Powwows And Celebrations

Updated on January 31, 2011

A Powwow is a celebration that usually lasts about four days, during which the Native American Indians feast and share their culture and religion in an often light-hearted manner. Each Year many Powwows are celebrated in North America, and these attract many Indians from all over the continent. Basically anyone who approaches the celebration with respect is welcome to join in.

During the Powwows, many intertribal dances and songs are performed. Each day is opened with the Grand Entry. All the dancers, notables and children - the ambassadors of the future - together ritually dance into the circle. After this, prayers are dedicated to the great spirit of the heavens, to Mother Earth, the spirits of the four winds, and the spirits of the sacred ancestors.

Indian dancer at an Indian Powwow
Indian dancer at an Indian Powwow

Songs and Dances at Indian Powwows

Now begins the grand feast with lots of dancing and singing, with speeches held by the great leaders, and several ceremonies such as "Give Aways", in which people thank their friends and families for their support and compassion, "Name Giving Ceremonies", during which mostly young people receive their official Indian names, as well as other initiation rites.

At the beginning of the Powwow the Flag Song is sung, during which flags are raised and everybody will stand up and take off their hats. The Flag Song says, "The grandfather's flag will stand forever," and it goes on to talk about what a warrior is willing to do for his tribe.

After the Flag Song is sung the Victory Song if there are war veterans at the celebration. In the second part of the song they will fire their rifles, just where the downbeat starts. It is not a well-known fact that during the Korean, the Vietnamese and the Gulf War many young Native American men and women signed up to join the US army. These war veterans are very respected in the Indian countries and are always honored at celebrations and Powwows. Also white and black veterans are invited to join the celebration and will be honored exactly the same way. A lot of veterans that do not seem to fit in their own communities have found their place within the Native American societies.

Socializing at Indian Powwows

The Rabbit Song, which is a round dance, is also sung during these social celebrations. It invites young boys and girls to socialize and mingle in a happy and excited atmosphere. The elders are also very enthusiastic during these dances as old memories come back and tales are told before the audience of shy young ones. The Rabbit Song is danced in couples holding hands.

For the Indians dancing, just like saying prayers, is a spiritual experience to which at certain moments everybody is invited to join in, regardless of race or which tribe they belong to. Because of the communal character of these dances, they are simply called intertribals.

When a family wants to honor people in order to thank them for all kinds of reasons, they will ask the drum group to sing the Penny Song. During the slow beat the family starts to dance in the circle and they pick out of the crowd the persons they want to honor. The beat will then accelerate and they will dance together. An atmosphere of joy is usually prevalent during these dances, except when things get overly emotional because of the different reasons why people are honored.

During these Powwows, sometimes dancing contests are held where hundreds of dancers compete for prizes in different age categories. The popularity of this type of contest helps keep the rich dancing culture of the tribes alive. The dancers are judged on dress, poise, inventiveness, and traditional dancing techniques.

Crowd at an Indian Powwow
Crowd at an Indian Powwow

The percussionist-singers are held in high esteem by the public. They give 100% of themselves from noon to midnight, creating the right spirit, leading the dancers to their best possible performance. It is not uncommon that grateful members of the public give these musicians smaller presents or some money. For some of them these gifts are an important source of income. In some rare cases it may happen that a singer is presented with an eagle feather, which is among the most sacred and important trophies a singer can earn during their lifetime.

Have you been to a Powwow recently?

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