Pow Wow at WU advice

adapted from Julia C. White, The Pow Wow Trail, 1996.

Pow Wow is European adaptation of Algonquin word

- Pau Wau that meant medicine men and spiritual leaders
- Term expanded to mean entire gathering of tribes

Spring- celebrate after long winter
Autumn- necessary to trade food staples

Dancing is an expression of thought, soul and spirit.
And solidarity.

A woman dancer said it connected her to her mother, and grandmother and to the beginning of time.



  • Do not take closeup pictures without asking. Pictures from the balcony is fine.
  • No alcohol, drugs or smoking - obviously
  • The "dance arena" at WU is basically the actual basketball area. The shaman will bless it with sage and prayer it is spiritual ground. Do not walk across the "dance arena" even if there is not a dance.
  • Around the "dance arena" are seating areas for elders, dancers and singers. Do not sit in the folding chairs for elders and dancers.
  • Dancer's clothing is called Regalia. Never touch a dancer's regalia without permission.
  • Food is available at the WU pow wow. Bring at least $10 for food.
  • There are Native American merchants selling in the area around the arena. Do not handle an object unless you are really honest about buying it.

Types of Events

Arts and craft show with exhibition dancers

Small local one day events.
Inter tribal competition


Reunion, picnic

Begun in the early 1900.


Until that time dances were performed only be elite warrior societies for tribes and elders,

Who will be there?
Announcer is master of ceremonies. Jokes.

Area Director oversees activities. Guards and protects any eagle feather that may be dropped until it can be retrieved in traditional manner. When feather falls all dancing stops until it retrieved by special person. In some cases it is taken to the grave if a veteran or respected elder or returned to dancer.

Whip man
Sees to care of elders. Small braided whip. Can point at you and make you dance.

Pow Wow Singers / the Drum

Drumming teams are called singers.

Traditional songs
New songs -
poke fun at society. Smoke Signals John Wayne teeth.
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and Goofy too
They all live in Disney land and work there too.
Drums made of various skins. Usually deer
Some groups call it the horse because if carried the spirit into other realms and other times, Ride the horse means to free your mind and allow your body to feel the power and pulsation's of the drum.

Mother drum
Large- room for 12 singers to sit around. Suspended from wooden frame to keep slightly off ground.

Northern - High pitched played fast
Southern - Deep and slow

Types of Dances:

Grand Entry

Official beginning. Dancers enter from East. Eagle staff- symbol of all Native Nations, American Flag, Canadian Flag, POW-MIA flag and the tribal flag for the pow wow host.
Head dancers in each division and titleholders from other dances. They are chosen by pow wow committee because of expertise and standing in dance competition. Held as an example for other dancers and take part in judging.

Head Dancers



Procession winds around arena in direction of the sun (clockwise) dancers show off regalia and footwork. Once all dancers in Arena Flag Song followed by invocation and blessing
Flags are moved to center of arena. Eagle staff is always higher.

Men competition dancers: traditional, grass, and fancy.

Women: traditional, fancy shawl and jingle dress.

Adults 18-49
Golden Age 50 and up.
Junior boys and girls 12 -17 in same order and
Tiny tot girls and boys.
Children 6- 11
Tiny Tots 5 and under.

Specialty and exhibition dancers (do not compete for prize money


Veterans Dance / Gourd Dance

Wear regalia of tribe and memorabilia of battle campaigns
Carry rattles, keep beat.
May wear battle fatigues
Respectful way of honoring their contribution to safety of this country. Women dance outside to honor their relatives, both living and dead who served in the wars. Not customarily photographed.


Fancy Dance

Evolved when pow wows first opened to public and competition dancing began. "War dance"Dancers asked to make regalia more colorful and exciting for white spectators.
Double bustle of feathers. One bustle hung from straps at waist. Other mounted on blocks of wood and suspended between shoulder blades. Anklets of angora fur with sheep bells attached, a ribbon shirt, beaded yoke, a belt and silver or copper arm bands and cuffs.
Head band and a roach of porcupine quills that carry a spinner with one of two feathers.
Original free form dance to show athletic ability, acrobatics and endurance of dancer. Leaps, spins, and fast foot work all in time to drum.

Fancy Shawl

Woman's dance began in 1930
Two stories
Butterfly lost mate in battle. Grief stricken went into cocoon (shawl). Vowed to travel the world stepping on each stone until she came across one she found beauty in then she could start her life over.
Women gave up buffalo robes and heavy blankets to wears shawls from European traders, Show off new clothes.
Dresses taffeta or satin knee length, feet beaded moccasins and matching leggings, beadwork worn in hair and on yokes placed over dresses.
Steps are original fast and athletic focus on spins and twirls of the shawls. An expert dancer never appears to touch the ground. Move in rhythm with drum stopping and staring when it does. End her dance on last drumbeat with both feet on ground and arms at side.


Grass Dance

Ancient. Dancers were warriors and wore scalps of enemies at waist. Ancient war dance. Now use grass and then yarn replaced scalps. First social dance when pow wow open to public.
Members tamping down tall grass before village or campsite could be set up.
Most beautiful and graceful of men's danceDance
Long fluid body movements emulate waving prairie grass.
Original Free form dance
Mark of an expert is his ability to keep his head nodding from side to side or up and down in time to the drum to keep feather on his roach constantly spinning.
Ornate yoke slips over head and rests on shoulders hands flowing yarn. Belt, beaded moccasins, beaded wrist cuffs anm bandana around head with porcupine roach. In roach is spinner with two feathers (symbolizes two braves returning to village telling stories of adventures)\yarn hands from shoulder, chest, wrist, and waist.
Seems to float in waves of yarn with no joints in body.

Jingle Dance

Ojibwa holy man dream. Shown how to make the dresses and given songs for dance and shown how dance was preformed by four young women dancers in his village.

Woke and told wife, made dresses. Called the 4 women who had danced in his dream and explained the dress and dance to them.
Spread across Ojibwa Nation Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In 1920 Ojibwa shared jingle dance and its history with Sioux Nation and popularity spread across Dakotas and Montana. Now performed by women of all Nations.Regalia
Dress is knee length and is covered with thousands of jingles- cones made from the metal lids of snuff cans, Cones attached to dress or rows of ribbons arrange in intricate patterns.

Dancers wear beaded or silver concho belts, beaded moccasins and matching leggings, a scarf at the neck, a bag or pouch over the arm and a fan made of feathers. A feather in the hair, held in place by heavily beaded decoration.
Dance is fast and follows the traditional footwork of the holy man's dream. Irish jig in complexity and execution.
Keep rhythm of drums and jingles stopping on last drum beat with both feet on ground.

Men's Traditional

Warriors as prepare for battle and as they return they dance the stories of their adventures.
Face paint and body paint highly personal statement
Headgear animal pelts to full cap of magpie feathers
Footwork is ancient tradition.
Body movement must be athletic.
Must be authentic for tribe and region.

(Northern and southern is styles not geography)
Northern Traditional
Breech cloth, breast plate made of bone, choker made of bone, anklets made of angora fur with sheep bells above them, belt, wide wrist cuffs, arm bands of copper or silver, moccasins and decorations on head or in hair.
War shield, dance staff, a feather fan, a war weapon and sometimes a dram catcher or medicine wheel.
Regalia depends on tribe- leggings, ribbon shirt, a single bustle of feathers suspended from waist.
Dance is more physically active than southern straight but not as fast or arobatic as Fancy

Southern Straight
Regalia is similar to northern
Breech cloth with leggings, long sleeved ribbon shirt with bone breast plate, bone choker, a bandoleer, a belt, arm bands of copper or silver, woven garter at knees sometimes with bells. Usually a porcupine roach headdress supporting a single feather.
Most distinctive is the Drag
Very long trailer goes down dancers back to ground, made of otter fur and called a drag. Decorated with beadwork and other items that have significance to dancer.
Dance is tightly controlled and elegant. Slow moving footwork and regal body positions.


Women's Traditional Dances
Very old women danced in circle at outer edge of dance arena so they could keep watch over safety of village while men dancing. Buckskin and cloth and two dance steps
One spot with woman's' body doing all of they work. Her feet shift in place without actually moving much.
Dancer moves around the arena clockwise in slow tightly controlled majestic manner.

Buckskin Regalia

Heavily beaded in elaborate patterns on yoke and can be knee or ankle length. Two pieces and have yards of flowing fringe from arms and hem. Fringe is said to represent the continuous flow of the waterfall with life giving water and energy symbolizing the perseverance of the Native Mother. The fringe should be kept in constant motion by movements of the body.
Dancers hair heavily decorated. Hair wraps of fur or beaded hair ties.
Fine jewelry ears and around neck.
Beaded moccasins with matching leggings, a beaded bag or pouch over arm, a beaded of silver belt which sometimes has a sheathed knife, a heavily fringed shawl over one arm and a feather fan.

Traditional Cloth
Trade cloth decorated elk teeth, coins, cowry shells and dentalium shells.
Ribbon work, fine beading, and floral designs.
Elaborate floral work beading or porcupine quills Great Lakes and Canada.
Beadwork is reflection of contact with French Traders who introduced floral design to Tribes. Since they could not embroider, did bead work.
Carried in as baby to dance arena
Training starts early. Dressed in miniature of adult.


Dances you can Join in

Meet new friends and feel the heart beat of the drum. Women should sear a shawl or scarf or even sweater across shoulders a s a sign of respect. Relax, let feet do own thing, enjoy fellow ship.Blanket Dance
Throw money in Blanket to help pay singers!
Social Dance or Two step is done by couples

Won't see sacred dances.

  • Sun Dances

  • Snake Dances

  • Deer Dance

  • Ghost Dance