What is a Powwow?
[Karen Deleary and Mike Dashner for the Ann Arbor Pow Wow at the University
of Michigan originally developed the following text]
Pow Wows are the Native
American people's way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and make new ones.
This is a time to renew thought of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage.
There are several differant
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 religious 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 old ways and rich heritage.
Dancers have always been a very important part
of the life of the American Indian. Most dances seen at Pow Wows today are social dances that might have had different
meanings in earlier days. Although dances styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance has not.
The outfits worn by the dancers, like the styles of clothing today evolve over time, it is not a stagnant culture, but a vibrant
and changing way of life.
Committees that work for weeks before the event
organize Pow Wows. 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 in the circle.
The Pow Wow begins by 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 the various tribes present. Veterans usually cary these. Native Americans hold the United States
flag in an honored position, despite the horrible treatment received from 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 the symbol of the United
States, which Native Americans are now a part. The flag here also reminds people of those people who have fought for
Following the veterans are other important
guests of the Pow Wow including tribal chiefs, Princesses, elders and Pow Wow organizers. Next in line are the men dancers.
The women Dancers follow the men. Once everone is in the Arena, the song ends and a song is sung to honor the flag and
veterans. After a 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.