What Is a Pow Wow?

Pow Wow: Native American celebration

The Pow Wow is an important Indigenous ceremony that represents the history and traditions of the Native American people. Learn about this fascinating celebration and how it evolved through the years!

The term Pow Wow may be familiar to many people without them knowing its definition. In fact, this Native American ceremony that involves music, dancing, and celebration, has a storied history. What many don’t know is that this practice was once banned for Indigenous people. While it has experienced a resurgence in recent years, it’s an important part of the history of Native American culture.

What Is the Purpose of a Pow Wow?

It is said the Poncas first held this inter-tribal ceremony in the 1800s. However, there are others who say it was the Northern Plains First Nations in the 19th century. The history of the Pow Wow event is unclear, but they were adopted as a Native celebration throughout North America. As reserves for Indigenous people were introduced, First Nations used this ceremony as a rebellion. To resist assimilation into European culture, the tradition evolved through dancing and music. 

Today, Pow Wows offer a tradition where Native and non-indigenous people can celebrate culture together. From dancing and music to food and art, it is a community celebration that has endured.  Share your own experiences with others on FamilyApp!

What Is the History of the Pow Wow?

The Pow Wow meaning may come from the Algonquin language of Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. ‘Pau wau’ or ‘pa wa’ translated into English means ‘he or she dreams’, which refers to tribe healers who interpreted dreams. It could also come from the Pawnee word ‘pa wa’ which means ‘to eat’. In the 1800s, European healers who traveled through North America used the term, displaying Indigenous styles of dancing.

In the early 1900s, North American governments outlawed many traditional Native ceremonies including Pow Wow activities. Because of this, the rights of Indigenous people on their land were curtailed. While concessions were made for a time, Native Americans argued that their treaties entitled them to perform ceremonies on their land.

Following the Second World War, even as the Indigenous had experienced assimilation, they began to practice this event again. Each year, the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow takes place in New Mexico with Native tribes from Canada and the United States. This year due to social distancing, it will take place from April 23rd to 25th as a virtual event.

What Are Pow Wow Music and Dancing?

The Pow Wow begins with Grand Entry, where all of the people participating enter the circle or arena. At this time, people stand as flags are brought into the area. Among the important guests are Tribal Chiefs, Princesses, Elders, organizers, and dancers.

Following a prayer, dancing resumes, and people sing intertribal songs. The music and song of the festival are integral to the celebration as they are part of Indigenous culture. The songs can range from themes of war and religion to social songs that enhance the community’s bonds. The dances are social dances which might have a different meaning now, but remain significant and have evolved with the times. Pow Wow dance styles for men include Chicken, Grass, Fancy, Northern Tradition, and Straight. For women, they include Buckskin, Jingle, Fancy Shawl, and Cloth. Share your Pow Wow experience with others on your favorite family app!

As a traditional event involving dance and music, few ceremonies are as important to Indigenous culture as the Pow Wow. While there was once a ban on the practice, it stands today as an important celebration of Native American culture and history. Have you ever been to a Pow Wow? Share your experience with other readers! This tradition may differ from tribe to tribe, but it exists as a celebration that binds a community together.  

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