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About Pow Wows

Picture - Traditional DesignTHE WORD "POW WOW" comes from the Algonquin word "PauWau" which was used to describe the medicine men and spiritual leaders.  Early Europeans thought the word referred to the entire event.  As Indian tribes learned English, they accepted this definition.

THE CONTEMPORARY POW WOW is a link to the past that helps maintain Native Heritage. Seen by outsiders as entertainment due to the singing, dancing, and colorful regalia, the Pow Wow is a spiritual legacy which should be treated with respect and honor.  It is a time when Indians reflect on their traditions.  It is a time to honor the past and celebrate the future.

A typical Pow Wow starts on Friday evening with a single Grand Entry and preliminary contest dancing, as well as Intertribal dancing.  Saturday has two Grand Entries, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening after a dinner break.  Sunday usually has as a single Grand Entry in the afternoon after which the final competitions are held for the contest.

THE DANCE ARENA, also called an Arbor, may be inside or out.  It is blessed before the Pow Wow begins and is considered to be sacred ground for the duration of the celebration.  There should be no drugs, alcohol, profanity, or boisterous behavior in this area.

THE GRAND ENTRY begins each session with a procession of dancers.  The Flag Bearers lead the procession carrying the Eagle Staff, American Flag, Canadian Flag, and frequently, the MIA-POW Flag.  Being a Flag Bearer is an honor usually given to a veteran, a respected traditional dancer, or a traditional elder.  Indian Royalty are next, consisting of tribal and organizational princesses and other dignitaries.  The Head Dancers lead a single file procession of dancers arranged by category and age.  Everyone is asked to stand during the Grand Entry and men should remove their head coverings unless it has an eagle feather.  After all the dancers are in the arena, a flag song is sung to honor the Eagle Staff and the flags.  Then a respect person, usually an elder, offers a prayer.  This is followed by a victory song during which the Eagle Staff and flags are placed in their standards.  At this time, the Master of Ceremonies will introduce the Head Dancers and Royalty.

THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES keeps the Pow Wow running smoothly.  He is the one who announces the contests, which drums are to sing, and he explains the ceremonies as they take place.

THE ARENA DIRECTOR is another important person at the Pow Wow.  It is his responsibility to make certain the dancers and singers have the amenities they need and to organize the Grand Entry.  One of his most important duties is to protect a feather if it drops to the ground and to assure the proper pick up ceremony for it.

THE HEAD DANCERS are selected by their reputations as dancers and by their knowledge of traditions and customs.  They represent their particular style of dancing and serve as models to the rest of the dancers during the Pow Wow.  Being selected as a Head Dancer is an honor.

THE HOST DRUM is invited to hold that position at a Pow Wow based on their reputation and knowledge.  They must be ready to fill in if there are any gaps in the drum order if another drum is not ready to sing.

CONTEST DANCING is divided into categories by age and style.  The number of categories varies among regions according to local traditions and to the number of dancers.  Dancers are judged on their regalia, as well as their dancing style.  Dancing out of beat, losing regalia, or failing to stop on the fast drum beat can disqualify a dancer.  The age categories being with Tiny Tots which are children five years old and under, Boys and Girls ages 6 to 11 are next, then Boys and Girls ages 12-17.  The adult categories are divided between men and women ages 18 to 49.  The Golden Age category is for men and women over 50.


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