Be part of a grand Native American powwow

Dance plays a large part in powwows Photo: Jose Gil /
Rhythms of ancient drums carry on the heritage Photo: Jose Gil /
Rhythms of ancient drums carry on the heritage
Photo: Jose Gil /

Native American powwows promise a spectacular event of colour, rhythms, heritage, spiritual symbols and fun

There’s no better way to discover the heritage of North America than to attend a powwow, a unique gathering event of the Native American peoples.

Powwows are where Native American tribes gather to dance, sing, renew old friendships and make new ones. A powwow is a sacred time to renew Native American culture and to preserve the rich heritage of American Indians.

There are many stories about the origination of the powwow. Some believe that the War Dance Societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains tribes were key figures in the origin of the powwow.

As various tribes come together in a powwow, they share their songs, and often change the songs so singers of different tribes can join. With these changes come the use of vocables to replace the words of the old songs.

Some songs at powwows today are sung in vocables with no words.

Dance & Rhythms

In most powwow dances, there is a circle that represents unity, the circle of life. Dancers often follow a clockwise pattern, associated with the sun.

Some of the regalia or ornaments signify special events or honours in a person’s life, special religious traditions or even symbols rooted in legend.

In the past 31 years, the “Gathering of Nations” has grown into one of the world’s most-recognised annual festivals. From the beginning, the concept has always been to produce an event in which Native American people can come together each year to celebrate and to share their unique culture.

Dance plays a large part in powwows Photo: Jose Gil /
Dance plays a large part in powwows
Photo: Jose Gil /

Things to Note When Attending a Powwow

Non-Native American visitors to powwows should observe a few rules and guidelines. These include:

  1. When the Eagle Staff is brought in during the grand entrance, everyone must stand and all hats are removed in respect.
  2. That same respect is shown should an eagle feather fall during the dancing. Everything must stop until a proper returning of the feather has been performed.
  3. Pay attention to the MC and his various announcements, including about the etiquette for the event and types of dances.
  4. Do not touch the dancers’ eagle feathers, bustles, plumes or fans.
  5. Do not bother the performers or stand in front of those preparing to dance or those singing.
  6. Ask permission before snapping an individual’s photograph outside the dance area, for this is private time. Some powwows are more restrictive than others in terms of photographing the event.
  7. Ornaments have special meanings and many of the handmade outfits cost thousands of dollars and are highly-cherished, and sometimes are made by a respected family member. Often, they are heirlooms and may be delicate.

Experience a grand powwow at least once in your lifetime.

The “Gathering of Nations Powwow”, North America’s biggest powwow, takes place from Apr 24 to 26, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.