Powwow – Not Just A Circus Side Show

Is it a circus side show for white folk to gawk, oooh and ahh at?   Over the last few days as I mentioned Powwow to people, it’s what it seemed to be to me.  Comments made and things said made me think of walking into a Catholic Church and snapping away photos of the whole ritual without care of anything sacred the congregation might be doing.  Clapping, cheering and laughing at very inappropriate times.

POWWOW - clown in church
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It’s different than what I do….. why do I care that I have just violated something sacred in the heart of a Catholic?  Easy answer… My mind is open enough to respect someone else’s traditions and beliefs, even if they are different then my own… I would never walk into someone’s church and treat it like a circus side show.  I also get the difference between MASS and CHURCH PICNIC.

NOTE:  I will be using the phrase First Nation or Tribal names in this post.  To me Native American means any person born in the Americas.  In the generations that have come since the Settlers settled in these beautiful lands, in my not so humble opinion, if you were born in the Americas, you are a Native American.

So what is powwow?

There are many definitions of a powwow…

  1. The first known use of the term was by the Narragansett Nation, whose word for powwaw meant “spiritual leader”.   (That would be like the Priest, Reverend, etc.)
  2. It’s also a ceremony conducted by said Spiritual Leader, as in the performing a healing, or hunting ritual.  (See my Catholic Church reference coming into play here?)
  3. A council or conference of or with people from the First Nations.
  4. INFORMALLY – A conference or a gathering.

It was also used in the 1800s by the quacks who peddled their fake cure all elixirs.  Maybe that can be a post for another time. 🙂

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go over the history and different types. Most importantly, why some people could take offense to some of the comments made.

We know from our grandfathers that “powwow” had been done well before the White settlers came to the Americas.

The Reasons for a Powwow traditionally:

  • religious ceremonies
  • events sponsored by various warrior societies or extended family groups
  • celebrations of new or reaffirmed alliances
  • homecoming celebrations honoring successful war parties
  • honoring our ancestors

Reasons for a Powwow today:

  • Reread why they were done traditionally.  Some of us still do our powwows that way.  Kind of like a Christian going to church.  It has a spiritual meaning to us.  Sure, a good time is usually had by all, but isn’t that what celebrating spirituality is about?
  • Celebrations honoring the return of First Nation veterans from wars. (Many First Nation people have served this country proudly, for me, it’s a family tradition.  You can count my family in America’s Wars from World War I to the current in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
  • First Nation and Non First Nations people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor First Nations culture.  These usually involve dance competitions, sales booths, and all that fun stuff.
    Powwow - Renfest
    See what I am saying?

    This is the one that a lot of First Nation peoples look at as the Circus Side Show in reality.  Some people even do these as their employment.

    Powwow - Picnic
    Copyright © September 2005 toombsday of flickr.com.
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    Reminds me of a RenFest using First Nation culture as the  basis.

So as you see, Modern Powwow – Mass and Church Picnic.   Now you know the difference.

At the church picnic kind of Powwow, pictures can be freely taken, just like any RenFest.   At the MASS types, pictures are usually frowned upon.  Even today, some First Nation people look at photographs as a violation of their spirituality.  Ask them first.

In closing, this post was not made to upset anyone.  I have to admit I was a little irritated at the things some people said or asked of me.  The intent of this post is SOLELY to educate people who are not aware of the differences or spiritual meanings of a Powwow.  Ignorance on things not normal to you can only be fixed if someone bothers to take the time to explain it to you.

I hope that next time a First Nation person happily exclaims “I AM GOING TO POWWOW!!”  you will take the time to ask which type, especially since you now know the difference.

 

 

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