Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 25, 2000 - Issue 06

Just What is a Pow Wow??

by Vicki Lockard
First in a series of Pow Wow articles

Pow Wow, or Wacipi, time is the Native American people's way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones. This is a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage. It is a celebration of the community.

There are several different stories of how the Pow Wow was started. Some believe that the war dance societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains tribes were the origin of the Pow Wow.

Another belief is that when the Native Americans were forced onto reservations the government also forced them to have dances for the public to come and see. Before each dance they were lead through the town in a parade, which is the beginning of the Grand Entry.

Pow Wow singers are very important figures in the Native American culture. Without them there would be no dancing. The songs are of many varieties, from religious to war to social.

As various tribes gathered together, they would share their songs, often changing the songs so singers of different tribes could join. With these changes came the use of "vocables" to replace the words of the old songs. Thus, some songs today are sung in vocables with no words.

Yet, they still hold special meaning to those who know the song. Many songs are still sung in native tongue either newly composed or as revivals of old songs. These songs are reminders to the Indian people of their old ways and rich heritage.

Dancers have always been a very important part of the life of the American Indian. Most dances seen at Pow Wows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance has not. The regalia worn by the dancers, like the styles of clothing today evolve over time, it is not a stagnate culture, but a vibrant and changing way of life.

The Pow Wow begins with the Grand Entry of all the people entering the arena. This originally was a parade through the town the Pow Wow was in. In some Pow Wows today, these parades are still held. During Grand Entry everyone is asked to stand as the flags are brought into the arena. The flags may include the eagle staffs of various tribes and families in attendance, US flag, tribal flags, and POW flag. Flags are usually carried by veterans. Native Americans hold the United States flag in an honored position. For us, the U.S. flag has two meanings. First, it is a way to remember all of the ancestors that fought
against this country. Second, now that Native Americans are a part of the U.S., it also reminds people of those people who have fought for this country.

Following the veterans are other important guests of the Pow Wow including tribal chiefs, elders, royalty, and Pow Wow organizers. Next in line, are the men dancers followed by the women dancers, then the children. Once everyone is in the arena, the song ends and a new song is sung to honor the flag and the veterans. After a prayer, dancing resumes usually with a few Round Dances. After the Round Dances, intertribal dancing songs are sung and everyone dances to the beat of the drum.


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