Pow Wow Protocol

The Honouring Our Students’ Pow Wow 2018, hosted by the Indigenous Studies Student Union, is being held at the Goldring Centre on March 11th. As many people may have never had the opportunity to attend a pow wow, I thought I’d take some time out to explain the history of pow wows, their significance in Indigenous culture and protocols or customs accompanying these celebrations.

Indigenous woman wearing beading and feathers
So, what is a pow wow? The word pow wow is disputed but its origins are believed to come from a southern New England language, Narragansett, meaning “to use divination, to dream” and from an Algonquian pawe·wa, meaning “he dreams.” It is also debated that it comes from the Pawnee word pa-wa, which means “to eat.” In the past, pow wows have been used as gatherings for friends and families to dance, feast, exchange trades, share information and to celebrate, sometimes lasting up to a week as many people travelled great distances to attend these events.

Many ceremonial practices, including pow wows and potlach ceremonies, were banned under the Indian Act and not repealed until the 1950s. In a more modern context, pow wows are a celebration of Indigenous cultures and people and still contain many cultural elements including dancing, drumming, feasting and crafts, with many pow wows offering large prizes for dancers and drummers.

Pow wows are generally open to the public and inclusive to all. They are a stunning opportunity to witness Indigenous cultures in a respectful way. On that note, I want to explain a few things you may encounter at a pow wow. While no two pow wows are the same, this handy guide can answer some questions you may have.

The Grand Entry is the official opening of the pow wow, often lead by veterans, Flag Carriers and Head Dancers. As a sign of respect, standing (unless disability or mobility issues prevents) and removing hats is the protocol during this opening.

The Master of Ceremonies helps run the pow wow smoothly by announcing singers, drummers, dancers, raffles, etc. and will conduct the pow wow.

Intertribal dance is an inclusive dance that allows Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, whether in regalia or not, to join in a dance.

Regalia is the clothing worn at pow wows, not costumes. Regalia is often of spiritual or historical significance, either handed down through generations, handmade by family members and extremely special to the individuals wearing it. Please refrain from touching any regalia or drums.

Honour songs are usually requested and performed on behalf of others, such as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, family members or those in need of blessings. Attendees and participants should stand (unless disability or mobility issues prevents) and remain silent during the song, and may be invited to participate in a dance after. Please refrain from recording or taking photos during honour songs.

There are also many different types of dances, including the Jingle Dress dance, Fancy Shawl dance, Traditional Dance, Grass Dance, etc. The drums are unique for each dance and the regalia will often reflect the type of dance.

Alcohol and drugs are forbidden at pow wows.

If you plan to record or take photographs, please seek permission from the individual or organizer. It is generally accepted to take photographs of dances within the arena, but not of dancers without their permission. If you can’t remember all this, don’t worry! The Master of Ceremonies will announce everything you need to know.

Indigenous dancer with medicine wheel and eagle feather regalia

Now that you’re versed in pow wow protocol, on to the other stuff!

You can also expect Indigenous food to be served, including Native tacos (made with frybread), strawberry juice, bison burgers and more.

Indigenous arts and crafts are one of my favourite parts of a pow wow. If you’re looking for jewellry, books, unique gifts, moccasins, beadwork and more, this is the place to buy it!

This year’s pow wow will feature over 50+ vendors, including food, craft and information stations. The event takes place on March 11th at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Doors open at 10:00am, with the Grand Entry beginning at 12:00pm.

If you are interested in volunteering, dancing or being a vendor, please contact the Indigenous Studies Student Union at issupowwow@gmail.com

Miigwetch/Niá:wen/ᑭᓇᓈᐢᑯᒥᑎᐣ/Thank you

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