I am not personally a practitioner of traditional ways. I try to bring the philosophies and purposes of custom and ceremonial practices into some form of expression in my life, but I do not walk a path of historical ceremonies.

My first experience at a powwow was highly spiritual and very positive. Yet, I recently read an article quoting an elder saying people are always trying to make powwows out to be such spiritual events, when they are actually supposed to be a coming together in community to just have fun. From an outside perspective, powwows seem, to me, to be part church, part craft show, part public performance, and yes, a good bit of fun dancing and community gathering. Indeed, one thing I do know is that there are no shortage of opinions (just like elsewhere) in First Nations communities about how things are done, or what they mean. Sometimes this stems from varying tribal customs. For instance, in our area, a dropped Eagle Feather is a faux pas not to be trivialized, and will bring a strong reprimand about proper respect. But, I attended a local powwow here one year where a dancer from a western tribe intentionally dropped an Eagle Feather. In his tribal customs this was done to honor a close family member or warrior who had recently died. It caused a little commotion while things were being worked out, but to the credit of the hosting elders, both traditions were ultimately explained to all those present. I have reprinted (with permission) two excellent articles from John Two-Hawks Circle of Nations newsletter which I think address and explain some of this. They are:

‘Pan-Indian’. . . . To be, or not to be . . . . and
‘The Indian experience’. . . . who is a real Indian?



Each of the powwows I have attended has begun with the Grand Entry. It is a time of honor and respect as the flags and banners are brought into the arena and posted.  Flag songs, honor songs, an invocation, a welcome song, and a veterans song typically fill up the opening times of each day, or session of the powwow. 

Right: Richard Begley carries the POW-MIA flag  in Lansing, MI. 

Below top:  Grand Entry at the Frank Bush Memorial "Walk in the Spirit" Pow Wow at Charlton Park in Hastings, Michigan. 

Below bottom:  Grand Entry at the Riverbank Traditional Pow Wow at Louis Adado Riverfront Park in Lansing, Michigan. 



Powwow dancing described in the Riverbank Traditional Pow Wow brochure:

American Indian dances are an expression of thankfulness to the Great Spirit, as the people dance in a sacred circle around the drums. The circle represents the cycle of life, the moon, sun, and earth. The drum arbor, which is traditionally covered with cedar, is in the center. The drums are the heartbeat of the powwow and of the people who dance. Dancing is done in a community spirit. It is a time when friends and relatives come together to celebrate with each other. Over the years, the dances have changed to reflect the growth of traditions. You will see two styles of regalia on the dancers. The traditional dancers use natural items and colors, with designs based on nature; the fancy dancer use brighter, more eye-catching colors and materials. While looking at the various dancing outfits, please remember if you have a questions about a dancers dress, please ask them. Most dancers have created their regalia themselves. Native American's do not call their dress "costumes," these outfits are spiritual significant rather than just for dress up. 

(Click here for more information)




In addition to the drum and the dancing, sometimes powwows have cultural displays or living history exhibits, and, of course, there are the traders, who according to the Frank Bush Memorial brochure "have been a fixture in the Pow Wow since the very first. They are a major part of the circle."


Once in a while I get a "raised eyebrow" type of response in some conservative Christian circles when I talk about powwows, and other First Nations topics. However, there is nothing to preclude a Christian from honoring or participating in these traditions. The Cherokee significantly embraced Christianity, as was still evident in the prayer offered at a powwow I attended in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Organizations such as Wiconi International use dancing and drum circles in Christian worship services and evangelical outreach throughout the world. For more information on some of these, see their websites listed in the Christian and Native American links. 


I have only taken my camera to a powwow on two occasions. Both times it was for the express purpose of creating these pages. There are powwow rules and courtesies to be observed which include photography (when, and of what, pictures may be taken). For a person not steeped or well versed in the traditions and etiquette, yet who is trying to be respectful, a powwow can offer some very frustrating moments, in spite of best intentions.  But, once you have been to a powwow, somehow, the drum keeps calling you back.


For more information about powwows, shared within the brochures of the Frank Bush Memorial "Walk in the Spirit" Pow Wow and the Riverbank Traditional Pow Wow in Lansing, click here.


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