Pow Wow History & Meaning: A Lakota Story

Modern day pow wows are large social gatherings that celebrate the beauty of Native American culture and its rich history. Many have surmised about the origins of the pow wow as a religious ceremony or a gathering of leaders; my theory on the origins of this social gathering include the most important natural resource to the Plains Indians…the buffalo.

We know the nomadic Plains Indians followed the vast herds of Buffalo - from Canada to Mexico and from the Mississippi to the Sierra's - and most of the time, it was relatively easy to track and find these large herds…but in the case the buffalo could not be found, our indigenous ancestors needed to "call to the Buffalo Nation".

Buffalo Dreamers
The Lakota have always respected the Buffalo as a Nation unto itself. In order to communicate with the Buffalo Nation, the people had to consult with one who had a deep inner connection to the spirit of the Buffalo and the spirit world. It is said that prayer and communing to the spirit world would help to cleanse the way to the Buffalo.

Hunting for buffalo with song & dance
Since buffalo are naturally curious about their surroundings - they investigate everything they hear, see or smell to make sure there are no threats or challenges to the herd - a large social gathering of people who are dancing and singing would play to buffalo's natural sense of curiosity, and bring the herds.

A call to the Buffalo Nation
It would begin with the sound of the drum - the steady beat of the drum is felt by many to be the heartbeat of the Oyate (the people). Songs would be added to further enhance the constant beat of the drum; and the dance would begin. This celebration of pulsating drum beats, soaring song and rhythmic dance would call to the spirit of the buffalo and the Buffalo Nation.

After a successful hunt, the people would celebrate with more singing and dancing, as well as prayers of thanks for all that the buffalo provides.

Thanking the Buffalo Nation
The modern day pow wow is a time when people gathered together to visit with family, sing, dance, renew old friendships, and make new ones…but I also believe these gatherings are calling to the Buffalo and thanking the Buffalo Nation for all they provide.