Powwows are celebrations, social gatherings and friendly dance competitions surrounded by ceremonial and traditional beliefs and teachings. Sacred traditions are often found in these gatherings of Native Americans throughout the United States.
Some regalia can specify special events or honors a person’s life, specific traditions or symbols rooted in legend. Each dancer has a different style of decorative symbols: birds, flowers, geometrical designs, etc. Most of the symbols are handed down from generation to generation as family heirlooms. Each family may use a specific symbol, as do many tribes.Native Americans do not think of themselves as wearing “costumes.” Costumes are reserved for Halloween and such. They refer to the dance gear as an “outfit” or “regalia.”
Everyone is welcome at a powwow; regardless of the tribe they are from. Non-Indians are welcome, too. For those of you who are new visitors, a bit of explanation might enhance the enjoyment and understanding. Powwows are not tourist attractions – that is one fact that many fail to grasp. Everyone is welcome, but the dancing will start when the time is right and will end when the time is right.
All powwows begin with a grand entry. The term is a contemporary word used to describe what was once called a victory dance. If you can imagine the area where the dancers are dancing, the crowd, the Master of Ceremonies – everyone is gathered together – all of these things symbolize the opening of the first dance, the return of the warriors from the war trail or a raid of neighboring tribes to get horses, or a successful hunting party. The grand entry can be described as an announcement of the warriors or a part of the tribe’s homecoming. The warriors would change into their finest clothing a few miles from the main camp. A serpentine ride in the form of a snake down a hill and onto flat ground would complete the journey into camp. As they made their way to camp, the snake dance song would be presented and a victory song would be sung – thus the grand entry. It symbolizes the warriors coming home, arriving at the camp and into the area where a social dance would be held to welcome them and celebrate their successful ride. The riders would return displaying their finery and the things they gained on their trail.
Eagle Staff – Everyone stands when the eagle staff is brought in during grand entry. Similar respect is shown to the eagle staff as is shown the American flag. Hats are removed. The same respect is also shown when an eagle feather becomes detached from an individual’s regalia. Everything must stop until the feather is returned to the owner. Veterans who have seen war will have the honor of returning the feather to the rightful owner. The MC will ask that NO pictures be taken and all recording devices be turned off.
Grand Entry – At the completion of grand entry, a respected elder usually gives an opening prayer.
Dance Arena – Do not cross, enter or stand in sacred areas known as the dance arena for any reason unless asked to participate in a social dance by the MC.
Questions – Most dancers and drummers are willing to answer your questions and will give you an opportunity to take their photo.
Regalia– Please refrain from touching any of the feathers or buckskin outfits of dancers or those in regalia. These items have ceremonial and often special meaning to each person. Many of these outfits have been constructed by family members and may be identified as family heirlooms.
Photos and Video – Photographs and video cameras can be used to capture the fantastic motion and color of the dancer’s outfits, but it is always a good idea to ask permission to do so. Photographs and recordings are strongly discouraged during ceremonial rituals.The MC will advise you of when videos or photographs are not allowed.