The Native American Pow Wow

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The Native American Pow Wow has become a symbol of renewal for the many tribes throughout the United States and Canada.

During colonial times, Europeans watching Algonquian medicine men dance misunderstood the name of the dancer, pauwau, as the name of the ceremony. As time went on, the term powwow was used to refer to any tribal gathering.

In the early 1800s, the Pawnees used this gathering as a religious ceremony. Other tribes like the Omaha changed it to a warrior ceremony. By the 1880s, Plains tribes used the powwow as a way to bring their enemies together in peace, build friendships, and celebrate shared traditions.

During the 1960s and 1970s, powwows grew in popularity with dance styles and costumes evolving while drawing on the traditions and symbols of the many tribes.

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Cal Nez, founder and president of The Native American Celebration in the Park (NACIP), out of Salt Lake City, Utah, explains “Walking Together. Peace and Unity. The Native American Celebration in the Park is about the Native American people as a whole and not one single person. My passion is to promote the Native American people and continue to have our drum and songs heard.”

The Great Lakes Powwows describes these celebrations as “…a gathering, a community celebration, a time for nations to come together to share songs and dances, a chance to celebrate your gifts, your heritage, your language, your culture with other Native people. It's fun, it's sacred and social woven together. Powwows aren't part of every Nations' tradition - in fact, there are hundreds of distinct songs and dances that are very different from powwow styles. But during the last 20 years especially, powwows have become part of a popular culture shared by many nations.”

A Native American pow wow begins with the Grand Entry. This includes dancers, flag carriers, delegates from different Native nations, and drums. A Flag Song is played as the flags of the different nations are raised, followed by a welcoming address.

Another key element is the drum. As explained by the Great Lakes Powwows, “A drum is the heartbeat not only of a powwow, but of all the First Nations. Among Ojibwe nations, it is explained that the Creator's first thoughts, represented by a shimmering sound, were answered by this heartbeat that came from the earth as it was being formed.”

Dance competitions might run from the afternoon into the evening hours. These dances are categorized by men’s and women’s groups and might include a traditional dance, a grass dance, a fancy dance, the fancy shawl dance, and the jingle dance.

Other dancing takes place too and you may be invited to participate. And if you’re not a Native American, guess what? Non-Native Americans are welcomed at these events. So be prepared!

And while you’re taking in all the dancing, beautiful costumes, music and drums, don’t miss out on the good foods, Native American crafts, and other activities taking place.

If you’d like more information on the Native American Pow Wow and how to find one near you, check out these websites for locations and dates:

Gathering of Nations

Native American Indian Powwow Calendar

There are other tribal celebrations or ceremonies such as the summer solstice and winter solstice, and the Sun Dance. A number of tribes may celebrate the same ceremony with variations in their practices. Other celebrations may be unique to the individual tribes.

The common thread throughout Native American celebrations is the profound respect for their creator, the Earth, and all living things.

Will you ever begin to understand the
meaning of the very soil beneath your feet?
From a grain of sand to a great mountain,
all is sacred. Yesterday and tomorrow exist
eternally upon this continent. We natives
are guardians of this sacred place.

~ Peter Blue Cloud, Mohawk

Before you leave, enjoy some of the beautiful words in these Native American poems, quotes, and creation stories!

Native American Poems   |   Native American Quotes   |   Creation Stories

What Is Your Favorite Pow Wow Celebration?

Native American Pow Wow celebrations take place all over the country. Tell us about your Pow Wow celebration and what makes it special.

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