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What is a Native American Powwow? Celebrate the Indigenous Culture with Jeena LaVie

Native American culture is a dynamic, evolving thing in its own right. Tradition and values are woven together to form a fabric that is passed down from one generation to the next. The powwow is an example of an ancient Native American tradition that celebrates the bonds between individuals and their communities.

Native American belief in an eternal cycle of life and death is reflected in the rituals of the powwow. Traditional healing rituals, accompanied by drumming and dancing, as well as a feast and chanting, are part of the celebration. They also use this time to reenact historical tales passed down through the generations.


Watch Full YouTube Video: Experience POWWOW by The Sea with Jeena LaVie


A powwow is an energetic festival where people of all ages and backgrounds gather to dance, sing, and have a good time. These kinds of gatherings were commonplace throughout Native American history, typically occurring once a year. It was a chance to reconnect with those who had moved on to another group and to celebrate the successes of the community as a whole. As an added bonus, it was a chance for adversaries to temporarily put aside their differences and come together in a show of solidarity.

The modern powwow is a gathering for Native Americans to celebrate their culture through song and dance. This is an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some brand-new ones. This is a great chance for Native Americans to celebrate and maintain their heritage. For many Native Americans, a powwow is a visible symbol, evidencing the strength and vitality of their legacy at a time when it is increasingly difficult to do so while also living in the modern world.


History of Powwow:



Medicine man (Pau Wau) is where the English word "powwow" comes from; the Narrtick language spoken by the Algonquian peoples of Massachusetts is where the term originated. As time went on, the word came to be incorrectly applied to all sorts of Native American gatherings by English colonists, not just those attended by indigenous medicine men. Native Americans are now proudly reclaiming the label.

Native American societies have regularly held ritual celebrations for hundreds of years. Powwows as we know them today, however, are descended from more recent ceremonies that originated in the Plains region. The United States government seized large swaths of land from the Lakota, Dakota, Blackfoot, and Ojibwa peoples of the Northern Plains and the Kiowa, Comanche, Pawnee, and Ponca peoples of the Southern Plains in the late nineteenth century. As a result of all the upheaval and migration that occurred during this time, the Plains Indians became very close and cooperative with one another.

During this time, the Drum Religion and the Grass Dance both developed as cross-tribal practices (or Helushka Society). While the Grass Dance is a modern take on traditional warrior dances, the Drum Religion was a sacred drum ritual that promoted friendship and unity among its participants. They both highlighted the importance of giving and receiving gifts. Since these were so widely disseminated across the Plains, many different tribes eventually modified and adapted them. After being uprooted by the government, families and communities would gather to celebrate their return. The modern powwow can trace its roots back to events like these.

Powwows commemorated American Indian veterans after World War I and II and revived warrior traditions. American Indian veterans organizations organized more events in subsequent years. Memorial Day powwows honor and celebrates veterans.

In the 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs moved thousands of Plains Indians to cities. This mass migration spurred intertribal collaboration in the late 1800s. Urban American Indians formed new communities and spaces to share their cultures. They started community centers, powwows, sports leagues, and church events.

There has been a meteoric rise in the number of powwows all over the United States as urbanization has become more pervasive among Native communities. This gave rise to powwow circuits and itinerant performance troupes. Around this time, competitive events at powwows began to gain popularity.

Weekend after weekend, people all over the world can attend a powwow. They attract local, intertribal, and global audiences wherever they are performed, from reservations to cities, from small venues to national stages.


Types of Powwows:



There are two primary types of powwows: traditional and competitive. At competitive powwows, musicians and dancers vie for awards. The Atmospheres of traditional powwows are generally far more laidback. Both forms of powwows honor the traditions of Native Americans.

Last December, Our Jeenalavie team visited San Diego to witness and capture glimpses of "POWWOW by the Sea," one of the most prominent Powwows observing ethnic inclusiveness and attracting people from all around the world. We also got the chance to talk to revered clan elders who were glad to shed light on the various interesting traditional aspects of POWWOW. Check out the full video here -


Traditions of Powwow:


Watch Video: Experience POWWOW by The Sea with Jeena LaVie 


  • Drumming: Drumming is an integral part of any Powwow. The drumbeat represents "the heartbeat of Mother Earth," according to the elder of the host tribe of 'Powwow by the sea' at San Diego. The echoes of the drum at a powwow summon the spirits and unite the dancers, singers, and observers in a common beat. Powwows always include drumming, but different communities have different drumming traditions. There is a special collection of songs, one for each tribe, that has been passed down orally through the ages. Northern-style women singers are welcomed in some communities, and they are given equal drumming rights with men.



  • Powwow Music: Powwow songs typically lack lyrics in favor of a string of vocables that have no lexical meaning. At a powwow drum, eight or more musicians sit together and play in time to the same song. The singing styles of the north and the south are very different. The words apparently represent 'prayers' for the revered ancestors.

  • Powwow Dancing: "Each and every step that he takes is a prayer. And everytime he puts his body through one of these hoops, he sends in a prayer." - says the elder of 'Powwow by the sea'. And this statement clearly explains the utmost significance of Powwow dancing, especially the sacred Native American hoop dancing.


Powwow Dances have changed over time, and this is reflected in their variety. Powwows traditionally featured only the dancing of warriors. However, all ages, from seniors to teenagers to young children, can find a dance to enjoy today.

Two beats are used in the traditional dance performed by both men and women. The men's version, which was once staid and formal, has developed to permit greater freedom of expression in performance. Another relatively new style is the men's fancy dance. The circular bustles made of feathers that Fancy Dancers wear on their backs are a trademark of the genre. And when they move, all those embellishments shine even brighter. The fancy shawl dance that women perform is based on older forms of male dance. The physically demanding dance has been developed over the last 35 years, and it has helped to reimagine the role of female dancers at powwows. The Fancy Shawl Dance has become the most popular contemporary dance for women and girls, despite initial resistance. Powwow dances not only celebrate the renewal of tradition central to American Indian culture but also reflect the unique identities of each participant within that culture. It's also a form of prayer.


Powwow Regalia:



Powwow regalia is an expressive costume that fuses traditional and contemporary styles. Clothing is a way to show respect for cultural norms and individual styles.

The items that make up a dancer's powwow outfit are meant to be personal expressions of who they are and where they come from. Many people today still dress in clothing that was either passed down through the generations or was made especially for them by a loved one. You can find everything from T-shirts and pins to Walmart moccasins in their designs. These costumes change over time to reflect the trends of the time and the dancer's personal development. War bonnets, porcupine head roaches, headdresses, ribbons, and bands are just some of the common items of headwear seen on dancers. Items in their possession may include feathered fans, fur-wrapped hoops, or staff.

Each dancer double-checks that every piece of jewelry and hair accessory is fastened before entering the dance circle. There are specific rituals and protocols to follow if a dancer loses a piece of their costume, so as not to upset the dance's spiritual equilibrium. Eagle feathers are sacred and should not be handled carelessly. If an eagle feather falls during a dance, the other dancers will circle it and keep it safe until it can be retrieved, cleaned, and put back in its rightful place.


Powwow Grand Entry: 



The opening ceremony, or "Grand Entry," is the first formal event of the pow wow. At this time, all spectators are welcome to enter the arena. There was once a parade through the streets of the town hosting the pow wow. These parades are still held at some modern-day pow wows. It is customary for spectators to stand for the Grand Entry, which involves the procession of flags into the arena. The American flag, tribal flags, the Prisoner of War flag, and the Eagle Staffs of the various tribes represented are the most common flags seen. War heroes often wear these. Despite the terrible treatment they have received from the United States, American Indians still hold the American flag in the highest regard. Flags often have more than one meaning. For one, it serves as a memorial to the countless generations of Native Americans who have fought against the United States. Moreover, it is the symbol of the United States, a country that is home to millions of Indian people. Also, the flag is a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by our country's heroes.

After the veterans have arrived, other dignitaries such as tribal chiefs, princesses, elders, and pow wow organizers will be welcomed to the event. The male dancers will take the stage next. As the men lead the way, the women follow close behind. Songs honouring the flags and the veterans are sung once everyone is inside the arena. Following a brief moment of silence and prayer, the dancing continues with a few rounds. Intertribal dancing songs are performed after the round dances, and everyone at the ceremony dances to the beat of the drum.


Powwow Etiquettes:



Though non-native outsiders are welcome to join Powwows to share the positive aspects of the culture, some etiquettes are there to follow if you wish to attend the event.

  • Dancers are only allowed on the benches in the arena. A blanket placed on the bench in advance can be used by dancers to claim a spot there. Do not occupy someone else's blanket without first asking permission. Benches that don't have covers are free for anyone to use.

  • Proper attire and demeanor are mandatory in the arena. The Arena Director will ask anyone who doesn't follow this rule to leave.

  • Pay attention to the emcee. He will make the call for the dancing and the timing of it. He will also elaborate on all the happenings of the event.

  • Stand during "special" songs to show respect for the flags and Honor Songs. Wait until the song's sponsors have danced a full circle around you before joining in. Stay standing still until the song is over if you're not going to dance.

  • Please respect the customs of the host tribe or organization at any powwow you attend.

  • Powwows typically do not make a profit. Funding comes from events like raffles, blanket dances, etc. Giving in someone's name is a great way to show your appreciation. Anyone attending the powwow is welcome to contribute financially by placing money on the blanket. Buy some raffle tickets to help out the committee.

  • When the American flag is raised or lowered, the Flag Song, also known as the Indian National Anthem, is performed. Everyone needs to stand up and take off their caps while we sing this song. This isn't a song you can dance to.

  • Ask for permission before clicking pictures or videos to show respect to the tribes and their traditions.

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