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What To Know Before Attending a Powwow

What To Know Before Attending a Powwow

  • February 10,2021
  • Tachini Drums

A powwow is an exciting, community-focused event where participants gather to dance, sing, socialize, and honor their Native American culture and heritage. These events can range from one day to up to a week long, in the case of special occasions. Months in advance, the powwow committee starts planning the event. The committee consists of a few people who do all the necessary planning for the powwow, including securing a location, recruiting vendors, and promoting the event. A powwow can include members from a single Native community or several. Most, but not all, are open to the public. The singing and dancing aren’t the only important aspects of the powwow; there are also the food, crafts, regalia, drum circles, and more.

Whether or not you have Native American heritage, there’s plenty of reasons to want to attend a powwow. Since powwows are celebrations and opportunities to share Native customs with people who might not be familiar with them, non-Natives are encouraged to attend. You might even be asked to participate in some of the dances. If you’re planning to attend your first powwow and you want to make sure you’re practicing the right etiquette, here’s what to know before attending a powwow.

The Circle

Every aspect of a powwow is centered around the Circle. The Circle plays an important role in Native American tradition. It represents a never-ending world in which time is fluid and everyone is treated as an equal. The Circle should never be broken. When you’re attending a powwow, avoid walking through a drum group’s setting, across the dance grounds, or anywhere else in close proximity to the Circle. The other participants will appreciate that you’re practicing the same level of respect and caution as they are.

The Drum Group

Being invited to a drum group is a great honor. The beat of the drum is considered the heartbeat of the people or of Mother Earth. It controls the entire flow of the powwow by setting a beat for the dancers and singers to follow. A powwow drum is a large, multiuser drum created by stretching animal hide over a wooden frame. The drummers are also singers, and they perform ceremonial songs in traditional languages. During ceremonial or historical songs, everyone in the arena stands. If you can’t recognize these important songs by sound, watch and take note of what your neighbors are doing. If everyone else in the arena is standing, you should be standing, too.

The Grand Entry and Military Service

Native Americans have the highest rate of military service among all ethnic groups on a per capita basis. During World War I, the United States offered citizenship to any Native Americans who served in the military. Native Americans have played fundamental roles in almost every major conflict, including the Revolutionary War, D-Day, and the Vietnam War.

The Grand Entry, which signals the start of the event, features military veterans and active-duty soldiers carrying the tribe’s war staff, the American flag, and tribal flags. These three symbols are displayed in the center of the dancing grounds. Some tribes use flags donated by the families of fallen soldiers. Others have drum groups perform songs for each service branch, including the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Know Your Dances

Another thing to know before attending a powwow is the different kinds of dances you’ll see performed. At a Midwestern event, expect to see Fancy, Jingle, Shawl, Traditional, and Grass dances. During the Fancy Dance, dancers will wear bright colors and fringe and dance with light, elegant steps that barely touch the ground. A Jingle dancer wears bells on their regalia, which make subtle sounds as they dance around the circle. The Shawl dance, which can be either a Fancy or Traditional-style dance, involves long, colorful shawls. The Traditional dance is slow-paced, and the movements resemble a warrior hunting for their enemy. Most Grass dancers will carry fans or carved bones with their regalia, and they’ll have bells on their moccasins.

Respect the Regalia

Make sure to treat the dancers’ regalia with respect. The regalia is important to them, and it usually consists of family or spiritual heirlooms. Never refer to a dancer’s dress as an outfit or costume. “Regalia” is the proper term. Avoid touching it, and don’t ask to touch it, either.

Try the Food

The food is delicious, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try it! Some concession stands will have traditional fair foods, such as turkey legs or corn on the cob, for sale. Vendors who specialize in traditional or popular Native American foods might serve things such as “Indian tacos,” corn soup, or fry bread. If you’re looking for something tasty to eat, you can also look for some strawberry juice, ham scones, or buffalo, bison, or elk burgers.

Check Out the Crafts

If you’re looking to purchase authentic, Native American-made products, powwows are some of the best places to do it. You’ll find a wide variety of vendors on site looking to sell their wares. You can browse vendors to find the best deals, but don’t start haggling with a vendor over a product’s price. People put a lot of time and effort into creating their handiwork. If you look closely at the product’s quality and stop to learn more about the maker’s process, you’ll realize the expensive products are well worth the money—and maybe even underpriced.

Don’t Be Afraid To Take Photos

As long as it’s not during a special moment or song, you’re free to take photographs. Planning to photograph a person? It’s polite to ask for their permission beforehand, especially if you’re planning to publish the photograph in an article or blog.

Always Be Respectful

Above all else, you’ll want to be respectful. If you’re not sure about the proper etiquette, ask questions, and always keep an open mind. A powwow is an opportunity to honor the traditions of the tribe, make new friends, and rekindle old friendships. When in doubt, do what everyone else is doing. Watch the crowd, and pay attention to what the master of ceremonies is saying.

Not many powwows are being held right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Tachini Drums’ authentic and masterfully crafted Native American powwow drums for sale can help you connect with the heartbeat of Mother Earth from the comfort of home.

What To Know Before Attending a Powwow

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