Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I've Learned About Powwows

We went to our first powwow (see Many Peoples Dancing as One). Here is what I have learned:

Powwows are gatherings of different Native American tribes, a time to preserve old ways and celebrate traditions with dancing, singing, eating, socializing, and some friendly competitions.

The first thing we saw was a group of people in the middle of the big room, sitting in a circle with their backs to those who had gathered to watch and/or dance. I thought they might be called drummers, as they certainly drummed together, but they are actually called the singers. Their songs were unfamiliar (and very thrilling) to me; they were apparently religious songs, as well as war and social songs.

The front seats in the arena are for the dancers. Any seat with a blanket on it is reserved, and uncovered seats in rows away from the front are considered unreserved and you may sit there.

Powwow organizers and those who take part depend on donations for travel money and support. Anyone can drop money onto the blanket laid on the ground during blanket dances.

You should remove your hat and stand quietly during the Grand Entry procession and during any special honor songs. Listen to the announcer for direction.

Different groups have different rules about photos. At the Red Paint Powwow we attended, observers were asked not to take photos; at the upcoming Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, pictures of group dancing are encouraged. Individuals who are waiting to dance should not have their pictures taken; this is a time of preparation and quiet reflection.

*****

I have "a typical Easterner bias," as was pointed out to me by a native Westerner friend, who was taking issue with my amazement at the deep patriotism of a people who had been abused by their government in the past. She pointed out that we are different people from the ones who took part in "all that." It was a surprise to me, to find myself identified as a typical Easterner even though I am proud to identify myself as a New Englander. Well, that's who I am and I can only tell you what I see and how it makes me feel.

For some other accounts of the same Red Paint Powwow, you can read our friend Patrick's blog post, Cultural Crossroad (he is an Easterner, too; a sociologist) and Andi Murphy's Native View on Red Paint (she is a Native American journalist from Crownpoint, New Mexico, on the edge of the Navajo reservation).  Andi's post includes photos taken at the powwow; I imagine she had permission to take them because she is a journalist. I am glad that there is a pictorial record outside of the pictures I will carry in my memory.

11 comments:

Sylvia K said...

It does sound like such a wonderful experience, Clairz! I would love to attend one! Thanks for all the information that you've shared! Hope your week is going well!

Sylvia

Joyful said...

I'm glad you've had a chance to attend a pow-wow. I've attended several different pow-wows in Canada. They had slightly different rules around seating, etc. but the 'no' photo taking is quite a standard thing. Sometimes it depends on the kind of pow-wow too whether and when you can take photos. Whatever the case, it is a great experience and I'm glad you liked it.

Linda in New Mexico said...

Clairz, I am a native born New Mexican. I too am amazed and humbled when I attend any of the ceremonial dances or pow wow's. I am of hispanic decent and my northern NM family were decendants of the Spaniards who conquered (interesting choice of words) the native peoples. How do I not have feelings about who I am, where I live and most importantly what I know. I wouldn't say that your feelings are exclusively eastern, nor would I say mine are typically western, I'd just say we feel according to what we experience. Good for us. Oma Linda
ps. you should come up here for the Gathering of Nations.....oh my goodness. All the colors, music, beats, peoples....remarkable.

clairz said...

Oma Linda, I have seen photos of the Gathering of Nations, and I really want to go to the one later this year!

Sallie (FullTime-Life.com said...

A wonderful experience and I thank you for sharing. We've always wanted to attend a powwow....

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

When we first started attending, the patriotic aspect was very humbling. It was explained to me that part of it is that there is still a strong warrior culture in the tribes.

What I really love about the powwows is that it shows that the Native American culture is alive and growing. It is not stuck in the past. They are moving forward.

Beth said...

How wonderful to be able to go to a Powwow, Clair! I liked your descriptions of the dancers---they were like photographs, as I could see them in my mind.

Linda said...

So this is what you were doing on Burns' Night! You're right, what a marvellous, wide blogging world it is.

Laura said...

a fascinating description of your experience!

WasSoggyInSeattle said...

We went to the Gathering of Nations a few years ago with Mom & Dad, she always wanted to go. It was amazing!

Quiet Paths said...

I've been to a couple here on the Rez. I bet they are way different down there.