This month is National American Indian Heritage Month in the US.
I know next to nothing about the various Indigenous cultures, beyond the basic stuff, like names, places, some of the tragic history, what I’ve read in books by people like Sherman Alexie, or watched fictional movies like Windtalkers, and documentaries like Reel Injun, so I’m going to be learning a bunch of stuff right alongside you guys, okay.
The first thing I looked up was the word Powwow, because I didn’t really understand what that meant, which lead me to videos on Youtube. Uhm, guys! this stuff is deeply hypnotic so watch out. I must have spent at least a couple of hours falling down the rabbit hole of watching all these dancers. (From what I gathered, its something like the Olympics for the various Indigenous Peoples, only held every year, in multiple places, and with a lot more dancing.)
What is Powwow?
First of all, what exactly is a Powwow, what is it’s purpose, and why do Native Americans do it? Do Indigenous people do this all over the world? Why is this a thing?
Students from the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and community members discuss the elements of an American Indian Pow Wow, its etiquette and its importance. Pow Wows are an annual spring event at Washington University in St. Louis.
Why is Powwow?
The reasons why Native Americans have Powwows, plus a little backstory.
Visit: http://www.stjo.org for more information
Today powwows take place over a period of one to four days and often draw dancers, singers, artists, and traders from hundreds of miles away. Spectators (including non-Indians) are welcome to attend, as participants seek to share the positive aspects of their culture with outsiders. Modern powwows can be grouped into two broad divisions: “competition” (or “contest”) events and those referred to as “traditional.”
How to Powwow:
Some Powwows are open to the public, while others are private, only open to members of the tribe and family. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts for Non-Natives attending a Powwow.
Pow Wows are one of the best ways to experience Native American culture in person.
Keep in mind that while they are open to the public, Pow Wows are culturally significant events.
There are a lot of different types of dancing at a Powwow, many of them based on locations, and tribes. Dancing isn’t just random moves, most of it has meaning, along with the manner of dress for each style, although there is such a thing as Freestyle dancing, the manner of dress (Regalia) is still deeply personal to the participant. Here’s what to look for when watching:
Dance Styles and Regalia:
Rooted in tradition and ceremony, dancing is an important part of Native American culture. Hundreds of dances exist, performed by tribes across the United States. Here are a few of the most popular and well known.
Men’s Grass Dance
This is the dance seen in regalia:
Because the regalia can sometimes be distracting for some of us, (hello!), here is a grass dancer without his regalia. There are very distinct moves and footwork involved. There are rules , so its not just random movement, which is what it can look like to someone who has never watched this before, or who is easily distracted by bright colors.
Men’s Fancy Dance
Women’s Jingle Dress
Here’s the Women’s Jingle Dress Dance, and in the second video, done without regalia:
Notice the manner of dress, and style of dance, for Traditional Women’s is much more reserved, more conservative, than for the Fancy Shawl Dance.
Women’s Fancy Shawl
This is one of my personal favorites, Hoop Dancing. I greatly admire this syle, because I couldn’t get anywhere near a hoop, without potentially embarrassing me, and all my ancestors, by tripping and falling:
There is even a Tiny Tots version :
Many of the designs and colors seen in regalia are personal to the dancer. They make their own outfits, according to their tribe’s traditional manner of dress. They also inherit some pieces, and buy a few pieces here and there, so that every form of regalia is distinct. No two are alike.
Northern Paiute Women’s
Women’s Fancy Shawl – Getting Dressed
This is the United Tribes Powwow of 2019, the Grand Entrance of all the tribes participating in the event:
This is a Fusion of Hip Hop and Powwow dancing. I was surprised to find that Hip Hop is such a huge deal huge on the reservations:
Here’s an Intertribal Powwow of some of the Canadian/Alaskan Tribes:
For any of my Native readers, (Hi!), any mistakes in this post are strictly my own, and if you have a correction of any kind, (or want me to add something) let me know in the comments over the next two weeks, or leave me a message on my Tumblr page.
Next time: Native Music