A pow wow (also powwow or pow-wow) is a social gathering held by many different Native American communities. A modern pow wow is a specific type of event for Native American people to meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honor their cultures. Pow wows may be private or public. There is generally a dancing competition, with many different types of traditional dances, music and regalia, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow wows vary in length from a one-day event, to major pow wows called for a special occasion which can be up to one week long.
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.
In popular culture, such as older Western movies, the term has also been used to describe any gathering of Native Americans, or to refer to any type of meeting, such as among military personnel.
The word “pow wow” is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader".The term itself has different variants including Powaw, Pawaw, Powah and Pawau. A number of different tribes claim to have held the “first” pow wow. Initially, public dances that most resemble what we now know as pow wows were most common in the Great Plains region of the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time when the United States government fragmented many Native communities in the hopes of acquiring land for economic exploitation. In 1923, Charles Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the United States, passed legislation modeled on Circular 1665, which he published in 1921, that limited the times of the year in which Native Americans could practice traditional dance, which he deemed as directly threatening the Christian religion. However, many Native communities continued to gather together in secret to practice their cultures’ dance and music, in defiance of this, and other, legislation. By the mid-nineteenth century, pow wows were also being held in the Great Lakes region.
The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:
Planning for a pow wow generally begins months, perhaps even a year, in advance of the event by a group of people usually referred to as a pow wow committee. Pow wows may be sponsored by a tribal organization, by an American Native community within an urban area, a Native American Studies program or American Native club on a college or university campus, tribe, or any other organization that can provide startup funds, insurance, and volunteer workers.
A college is an educational institution or a constituent part of one. A college may be a degree-awarding tertiary educational institution, a part of a collegiate or federal university, an institution offering vocational education or a secondary school.
A university is an institution of higher education and research which awards academic degrees in various academic disciplines. Universities typically provide undergraduate education and postgraduate education.
A pow wow committee consists of a number of individuals who do all the planning prior to the event. If a pow wow has a sponsor, such as a tribe, college, or organization, many or all members of the committee may come from that group. The committee is responsible to recruit and hire the head staff, publicize the pow wow, secure a location, and recruit vendors who pay for the right to set up and sell food or merchandise at the pow wow.
A committee is a body of one or more persons that is subordinate to a deliberative assembly. Usually, the assembly sends matters into a committee as a way to explore them more fully than would be possible if the assembly itself were considering them. Committees may have different functions and their type of work differ depending on the type of the organization and its needs.
The head staff of a pow wow are the people who run the event on the day or days it actually occurs. They are generally hired by the pow wow committee several months in advance, as the quality of the head staff can affect attendance.To be chosen as part of the head staff is an honor, showing respect for the person's skills or dedication.
The arena director is the person in charge during the pow wow. Sometimes the arena director is referred to as the whip man, sometimes the whip man is the arena director's assistant, and many pow wows don't have a whip man. The arena director makes sure dancers are dancing during the pow wow and that the drum groups know what type of song to sing. If there are contests the arena director is ultimately responsible for providing judges, though they often have another assistant who is the head judge. The arena director is also responsible for organizing any ceremonies that may be required during the pow wow, such as when an eagle feather is dropped, and others as required. One of the main duties of the arena director is to ensure that the dance arena is treated with the proper respect from visitors to the pow wow.
The master of ceremonies, or MC, is the voice of the pow wow. It is his job to keep the singers, dancers, and public informed as to what is happening. The MC sets the schedule of events, and maintains the drum rotation, or order of when each drum group gets to sing. The MC is also responsible for filling any dead air time that may occur during the pow wow, often with jokes. The MC often runs any raffles or other contests that may happen during the pow wow.
The head dancers consist of the Head Man Dancer and the Head Woman Dancer, and often Head Teen Dancers, Head Little Boy and Girl Dancers, Head Golden Age Dancers, and a Head Gourd Dancer if the pow wow has a Gourd Dance. The head dancers lead the other dancers in the grand entry or parade of dancers that opens a pow wow. In many cases, the head dancers are also responsible for leading the dancers during songs, and often dancers will not enter the arena unless the head dancers are already out dancing.
The singers while singing. Host drums are responsible for singing the songs at the beginning and end of a pow wow session, generally a starting song, the grand entry song, a flag song, and a veterans or victory song to start the pow-wow, and a flag song, retreat song and closing song to end the pow wow. Additionally, if a pow-wow has gourd dancing, the Southern Host Drum is often the drum that sings all the gourd songs, though another drum can perform them. The host drums are often called upon to sing special songs during the pow-wow.
Famous host drums include Black Lodge Singers, Cozad Singers, and Yellowhammer.
A pow wow is often set up as a series of large circles. The center circle is the dance arena, outside of which is a larger circle consisting of the MC's table, drum groups, and sitting areas for dancers and their families. Beyond these two circles for participants is an area for spectators, while outside of all are designated areas with vendor's booths, where one can buy food (including frybread and Indian tacos), music, jewelry, souvenirs, arts and crafts, beadwork, leather, and regalia supplies.
At outdoor pow wows, this circle is often covered by either a committee-built arbor or tent, or each group, particularly the MC and the drums, will provide their own. While most of the time, a tent provides shelter from the sun, rain can also plague outdoor events. It is particularly important to protect the drums used by the drum groups, as they are sensitive to temperature changes and, if it rains, they cannot get wet. Most vendors provide their own tents or shelters at an outdoor pow wow.
Pow wow etiquette is required; such as rules for when photography is or is not acceptable, protocol for the Grand Entry, and so on. A few guidelines are common; clothing worn by participants is known as "regalia" and not to be called a "costume." Some rules are for common sense courtesy: drums have special rules and should not be touched or played by those not a part of the drum group. People and their regalia should not be touched without permission.Photographs are also a big part of pow wow etiquette. Depending on the reservation and ceremony, viewers should ask before taking photographs or recording videos or tapes. Some tribes, such as the Pascua Yaqui and Hopi, ban photos and sketches of ceremonies.
A pow-wow session begins with the Grand Entry and, in most cases, a prayer. The Eagle Staff leads the Grand Entry, followed by flags, then the dancers, while one of the host drums sings an opening song. This event is sacred in nature; some pow wows do not allow filming or photography during this time, though others allow it.
If military veterans or active duty soldiers are present, they often carry the flags and eagle staffs. They are followed by the head dancers, then the remaining dancers usually enter the arena in a specific order: Men's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy, Women's Traditional, Women's Jingle, and Women's Fancy. Teens and small children then follow in the same order. Following the Grand Entry, the MC will invite a respected member of the community to give an invocation. The host drum that did not sing the Grand Entry song will then sing a Flag Song, followed by a Victory or Veterans' Song, during which the flags and staffs are posted at the MC's table.
The different styles and types of dances at a pow wow are descended from the traditions of the Great Plains nations of Canada and the United States. Besides those for the opening and closing of a pow wow session, the most common is the intertribal, where a Drum will sing a song and anyone who wants to can come and dance. Similar dances are the round dance; crow hop when performed by a northern drum or a horse stealing song by a southern drum; there is also "double beat", "sneakup" and, for Women's Traditional and Jingle, "sidestep". Each of these songs have a different step to be used during them, but are open for dancers of any style.
In addition to the open dances, contest dances for a particular style and age group are often held, with the top winners receiving a cash prize. To compete in a contest, the dancer must be in regalia appropriate for the competition. Larger pow wows have more specific categories. The dance categories vary somewhat by region, but general categories are as follows:
Normal intertribal dancing is an individual activity, but there are also couples and group dances. Couples dances include the two step and owl dance. In a two step each couple follows the lead of the head dancers, forming a line behind them, whereas in an owl dance each couple dances alone. Group dances include the Snake and Buffalo dance, where the group dances to mimic the motions of a snake in the beginning of the dance, then change to mimic the actions of a herd of buffalo.
At pow wows where there is a large Southern Plains community in the area, the Gourd Dance is often included before the start of the pow wow sessions. The gourd dance originated with the Kiowa tribe, whence it spread, and is a society dance for veterans and their families. Unlike other dances, the gourd dance is normally performed with the drum in the center of the dance arena, not on the side.
Though there are many genres unique to different tribes pow wow music is characterized by pan or intertribalism with the Plains cultures, the originators of the modern pow wow, predominating. For information on dancing, see Dances .
There may be many drums at a pow wow, especially weekend or week long ones, but each pow wow features a host drum which is accorded great respect. The members of drum groups are often family, extended family, or friends. Groups are then often named for families, geographic locations, tribal societies, or more colorful names. Many groups display their names on jackets, caps, vehicles, and chairs. Traditionally only men would drum and women would sit behind the men singing high harmonies. Beginning in the mid-1970s, women began drumming with men and seconding, or singing, an octave higher, the song.Today, there are mixed-gender and all-female drum groups.
The supplies a drum group carries include the drum, rawhide headed, a cloth bag for padded drum sticks, the drum stand, folding chairs for sitting, and, in some cases, a public address system. The drum head, stand, microphone stands, and PA box are often decorated with paintings or eagle feathers, fur, flags, and strips of colored cloth.
Readily noticeable in performances are the "hard beats" used to indicate sections of the song. The "traditional method" consists of a pronounced strike by all singers every other beat. These may appear in the first or second line of a song, the end of a section, before the repetition of a song. A cluster of three hard beats (on consecutive beats) may be used at the end of a series of hard beats, while a few beats in the first line of a song indicate performer enthusiasm. In the "Hot Five" method five beats are used, with the first hard beat four beats before the second, after which the beats alternate.
To understand drum protocol, a drum may be thought of as a person or being and is to be regarded and respected as such. Drum etiquette is highly important. There are regional variations. The drum is the central symbol of Oklahoma pow wows and is located in the center of the dance floor and pow wow (which are themselves shaped in concentric circles). Southern drums are suspended by four posts, one for each direction. Northern drums are set up on the outside of the dance area, with the host drum in the best position. Drummer-singers are expected to remain at their drum and ready to sing at any moment's notice; a dancer might approach the drum and whistle, fan or gesture his staff over a drum to indicate his request for a song even if it is not that drum group's turn to sing. In some regions it is considered disrespectful to leave a drum completely unattended. Some drum groups do not allow females to sit down at their drum but welcome them to stand behind the drummers and sing backup harmonies; the reasons for this point vaguely to a variety of tribal stories that attempt to tell the history of drumming as each group understands it. The drum is offered gifts of tobacco during giveaways and musicians acknowledge this by standing.
While the drum is central to pow wows, "the drum only helps them keep beat. Dancers key on the melody of the song. Rhythms, tones, pitch all help create their 'moves'." (p. 85) Note that Bill Runs Above did not mention the lyrics of the songs, and while they are no doubt important, most lyrics of most songs employ vocables, syllable sounds such as "ya", "hey", and "loi" (p. 86). This is particularly evident in intertribal songs, such as the AIM Song, which cannot be biased towards a certain language.
The song structure consists of four pushups, singing the chorus and verse through four times. In each chorus the melody is introduced or led off by the lead singer whose is then seconded by another singer who begins to vary the melody before the end of the leader's first line. They are then joined by the entire chorus for the rest of the pushup. Three down strokes or hard beatsmark the end of the chorus and beginning of the verse, and during these dancers will alter their dancing such as by hopping low like fancy dancers. An increase in tempo and volume on the last five beats marks the end of the final verse. The dancing stops on the final beat and then a tail, or coda, finishes the song with a shortened chorus. Sometimes a drum group will sing the song more than four times, particularly when the song feels good and the singers seize the moment for an extra pushup or two (or more), or when a dancer blows a whistle or passes his staff or fan over the drum to signal that the song is to be continued four extra pushups while he prays.
Singing differs by region in that a high falsetto is used in the north while in the south a lower range is used. "To the unfamiliar listener, Indian singing sounds exotic, different, and difficult to comprehend," and the contrast in the quality or timbre of voice used in traditional Indian and European musics may have much to do with that difficulty. However, "to the trained ear, melodies flow, ascend and descend" while dancers react to changes in the structure of the melody and the song. Boye Ladd says, "If you give me a stink song, I'll dance stink. If you give me good music, I'll give you a great show," implying that one can appreciate the music through the dancing, which is readily appreciated by everyone.But others say that today's contemporary contest dancers are expected to dance their best no matter how well or poor the drum group is that is singing for their contest. Generally, Native American singing follows a pentatonic scale (as if playing only the black keys on a piano) and while, to the outsider, it may sound like we're just pounding a drum and going "Heya-heya-heya-heya" sometimes there are actual words in Cree, Pikuni, Lushuutsid, Niimipuu, Lakhota, Sahpatin, Salish, Ojibwemowin or many other Native languages.
Indigenous music of North America, which includes American Indian music or Native American music, is the music that is used, created or performed by Indigenous peoples of North America, including Native Americans in the United States and Aboriginal peoples in Canada, Indigenous peoples of Mexico, and other North American countries—especially traditional tribal music, such as Pueblo music and Inuit music. In addition to the traditional music of the Native American groups, there now exist pan-tribal and intertribal genres as well as distinct Native American subgenres of popular music including: rock, blues, hip hop, classical, film music, and reggae, as well as unique popular styles like chicken scratch and New Mexico music.
Blackfoot music is the music of the Blackfoot people. Singing predominates and was accompanied only by percussion.
The Cozad Singers are a Kiowa drum group from Anadarko, Oklahoma. The group was founded by Leonard Cozad, Sr. in the 1930s, and consists of Leonard, his sons, grandsons, and other members of the family. Cozad, as they are commonly known, are southern style pow-wow and gourd drum, and have released several albums. They performed on the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Native American Music Album winning Gathering of Nations Pow Wow album, along with 15 other drum groups. Their most recent album, California Pow Wow, was released by SOAR Records in June, 2004, and won the 2005 Native American Music Award for Best Historical Recording.
The Sioux are a large group of Native Americans generally divided into three subgroups: Lakota, Dakota and Nakota.
Kiowa music is the traditional and contemporary music of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. The Kiowa are a federally recognized tribe, meaning they have a functioning government-to-government relationship with the United States Government.
Fancy dance, Pan-Indian dancing, Fancy Feather or Fancy War Dance is a style of dance some believe was originally created by members of the Ponca tribe in the 1920s and 1930s, in an attempt to preserve their culture and religion. It is loosely based on the War dance. Fancy dance was considered appropriate to be performed for visitors to reservations and at "Wild West" shows. But today, fancy dancers can be seen at many powwows across the nation and even the world.
The Black Lodge Singers of White Swan, Washington are a Native American northern drum group led by Kenny ScabbyRobe, of the Blackfeet Nation. The Black Lodge Singers are largely drawn from his twelve sons. They have released twenty albums for Canyon Records, including two albums of pow wow songs for children.
American Indian Dance Theatre is a professional performing arts company presenting the dances and songs of Native Americans in the United States and the First Nations of Canada. The group was founded in 1987 with Hanay Geiogamah as director and Barbara Schwei as producer. Raoul Trujillo served as choreographer and co-director. The group includes members from many different tribal backgrounds. It made its New York City debut in 1989 in Manhattan's Joyce Theater. In 1990 and 1993, the group was featured in PBS' Great Performances segments.
The Gourd Dance is a Kiowa dance ceremony. It is believed that the dance originated with the Kiowa. First it is a man's dance. It is often danced by Warriors/Veterans, although the Gourd Dance has its own unique history. Gourd Dancing may precede the pow-wow or it can be a separate event, not directly connected with a pow-wow. The Gourd Dance was not only held to honor a warrior, or honor their enemy who they defeated. It honors all Warriors & Veterans. The final song is the Buffalo song.
The Gathering of Nations is the largest pow-wow in the United States and North America. It is held annually the fourth weekend in April, on the Powwow Grounds at Expo NM, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over 565 tribes from around the United States and 220 from Canada travel to Albuquerque to participate. There are 36 dance categories, and different age group categories including Elders (70+), Golden Age (55+), Adults (19+), Teens and Tiny Tots. Other competitions include Northern Singers, Southern Singers, Women's Back-up Singing, and a competition for Drum Groups and Drummers and other various special competitions. A pageant for Miss Indian World is held each year. The winner is chosen based upon personality, knowledge of tribal traditions, and dancing ability. There is also Indian Traders Market featuring artists, crafters and traders selling Native American and Indigenous arts and crafts. Additional activities during this native themed festival is stage 49 The contemporary music and performance space where native musicians and others experience performance on a professional stage and in front of a large audience. Also is the native horse and rider regalia parade, honoring the horse culture among tribes. And the tee pee village. Gathering of Nations also participates annually in a literacy program, delivering over four thousand books to young children registered to dance.
Jingle dress is a First Nations and Native American women's pow wow regalia and dance. North Central College associate professor Matthew Krystal notes, in his book, Indigenous Dance and Dancing Indian: Contested Representation in the Global Era, that "Whereas men's styles offer Grass Dance as a healing themed dance, women may select Jingle Dress Dance." The regalia worn for the dance is a jingle dress, which includes ornamentation with multiple rows of metal, such as cones, that create a jingling sound as the dancer moves.
The Native American bustle is a traditional part of a man's regalia worn during a dance exhibition or wachipi and originates from the Plains region of the United States. In its modern form, the men's bustle is typically made of a string of eagle or hawk feathers attached to a backboard. Eagle and hawk feathers are sacred religious objects to Native American people and the possession of eagle and hawk feathers are protected by the eagle feather law.
Gathering of Nations Pow Wow 1999 is a compilation album by various artists, released on May 23, 2000. The album features music from the annual event "Gathering of Nations Pow Wow" in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It contains live recordings from the 1999 event with 19 different drum groups from various Native American tribes. It received the Grammy Award for Best Native American Music Album in 2001, the first time this award was held. AllMusic recommends the album to anyone who is already a fan of powwow music, "simply because it is an exceptionally high quality recording."
Porcupine hair roaches are a traditional male headdress of a number of Native American tribes in what is now New England, the Great Lakes and Missouri River regions, including the Potawatomi who lived where Chicago now stands. They were and still are most often worn by dancers at pow wows as regalia.
A Tribe Called Red is a Canadian electronic music group, who blend instrumental hip hop, reggae, moombahton and dubstep-influenced dance music with elements of First Nations music, particularly vocal chanting and drumming. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the group consists of Tim "2oolman" Hill, and Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas. Former members include co-founder DJ Jon Deck and Dan "DJ Shub" General, who left the band for personal reasons in spring 2014, and was replaced by Hill. Co-founder Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau left the band for health reasons in October 2017, with the band opting to remain a duo for the time being.
The grass dance or Omaha dance is a style of modern Native American men's pow wow dancing originating in the warrior societies on the Northern Great Plains. Unlike most forms of pow wow dancing, the grass dance regalia generally has no feathers besides the occasional roach feather. Instead the regalia consists of brightly colored fringe made of either yarn, broadcloth, or ribbon.
The Straight Dance, also known as Southern Straight Dance or Southern Traditional, is a style of Native American pow wow dancing. The dance recounts the story of hunting or war parties searching for the enemy.
Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie is a Canadian musician whose debut album Round Dance & Beats (Powwow) was a shortlisted nominee for both the Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2017 and Best Hand Drum Album of the year at the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards.
Black Bear, sometimes credited as Black Bear Singers, are a Canadian musical group from Manawan, Quebec, who perform traditional First Nations music. They are frequent collaborators with the group A Tribe Called Red.
Powwow-step or Pow wow step and sometimes Electric Powwow is a genre of electronic music characterized by the mixture of First Nations pow wow and electronic music styles. The name of the genre is derived from pow wow and dubstep. Ian Campeau of A Tribe Called Red has claimed about the genre “All we really did was match up dance music with dance music”.
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