The Importance of Pow-Wow

Here in the Northern Plains, you can already smell the frost coming, the leaves will begin to change color and then the snow will come. But before all of that, we have one last chance to enjoy the company of family and friends at the Black Hills Pow-Wow or He Sapa Wacipi 2010.

A Pow Wow helps to drive home the fact that we are not a vanishing race; we are here because we have always been here and this is the home of our people.

A Pow Wow for me personally is a wonderful event full of color and sound, laughter and shouts of joy. I imagine that a social gathering back in the day would have been a lot like this with joy and passion erupting at every turn.

A social gathering was something that normally happened once a year. If a family member had become a part of a different tribe, you may only get this one chance to see them, to catch up and to get acquainted with any children this family member may have produced since you last saw them. Two enemies could sit down at a campfire and share a moment of truce or truth, whichever was appropriate. This was a gathering to be social, not fight.

Games were even played at these social gatherings and most were games of chance. And you could exchange skills, like the latest quillwork technique, a better earth/mineral color, hide tanning, hunting, etc…. anything you could bring to this event would make you highly sought after.

A modern day Pow Wow is a version of this. A Pow Wow not only offers competition dancing, but hand game events, Princess contests, fashion shows, drumming and singing contests and crafts & fine art competitions. Some Pow Wows can attract hundreds of dancers or even thousands of dancers. And again, you can exchange skills, dancing, singing, drumming, beading, quill-working, hair styles, clothes styles, etc…. anything you can bring to this event will make you highly sought after.

One of the many favorite events is the grand entry. At the beginning of a Pow Wow, all of the dancers will line up and dance into the pow-wow circle. The honor guard, veterans and elders lead them. Then comes the many generations of men, women and children. All ages are represented, all styles of clothing are also represented, and it’s a truly magnificent sight and one that can only be appreciated by actually being at a Pow Wow.

Everyone is welcome! And I mean everyone. Children are always welcome and even enjoy the arena events as well. Here is some general information for the first timer: There aren’t any scary sacrifices, there aren't any secret ceremonies, no violence allowed, no alcohol, no drugs or any other shenanigans!

There are inter-tribal dances, which means everyone can dance and that means anyone who wishes to experience the Pow Wow from the arena and not just from the stands. There is always something to see or hear at a Pow Wow and I can say from personal experience it can be riveting and mesmerizing.

There are some rules though, never take a dancers picture without permission, never film without permission, do not point (it is considered rude) and never touch any of the dance regalia without permission. Some of the outfits are made from real eagle feathers and there are special rules that guide the use or even touching of a real eagle feather. So be respectful but also be politely curious, most folks don’t mind posing for a picture or answering a few questions.

Take the time to learn more about your local Native American community and come dance with us, it’s fun and a great exercise in education. Education is the key to understanding.