A giveaway is a special ceremony
, usually at a Native
American Pow Wow
, to commemorate a
, whereby gifts
are given by the
person requesting the
ceremony to others who have helped
or traveled far to honor
them in the
event itself. If you are familiar with the works of J. R.R.
, it is
not entirely unlike a hobbit's birthday
. It is an event that
generates a lot
of honor for the tribe and for the person(s) requesting the giveaway, as well
as for those who are given gifts
. The type of life-changing event, the presents
that are given away, and the manner in which everything is performed
determines how much honor is bestowed all around.
Each Native American
tribe will have it's own special house
giveaways at their Pow Wows, but there are a few overall considerations that
TIME and TIMING is precious at any Pow Wow, and while a giveaway
is never considered a waste of time, it is a time-consuming event. The gifts
handed out at a giveaway ceremony are usually reserved for those who have really helped you achieve this life-changing event, have traveled a
very long way to observe it (as in, halfway across the U.S.), or
representatives of specifics groups (such as Veterans or Elders).
- You need to know WHAT to
EXPECT before I go into too much further
detail. Again, each tribe handles it differently, but the general order of a
giveaway is this:
- An announcement is made by the Master of Ceremonies that XXX wishes
"buy a song" in honor of YYY.
- You or ZZZ (your Announcer, if any), will then introduce you to the
audience, probably citing some lineage, and explain why you wish to honor
tribe with your giveaway. Note: I recommend having an announcer, unless
you know exactly what you are doing,
and from whom you are descended
for about four generations back and several steps sideways.
- If you wish to say a few
words before the dance, now is the time to say
them, after the introduction.
- The dance begins, with you in the lead. Hopefully you
watched some others
and learned the steps ahead of time. They aren't complex, but the footwork
can be a bit tricky.
- The dance ends. A family member or friend fetches the giveaway gifts up
to the front of the line, while the announcer continues talking, and others
come by to offer congratulations.
- You give money to the Head Drummer, the Pow Wow Committee, and most
likely, the Announcer.
- One by one, the Announcer calls up the rest of those to be given gifts.
- Ceremony ends, and any remaining gifts are given away in a more casual
personal ceremony, usually at the family campground.
The BIG THREE group representatives that should generally always
be gifted, and specifically with cash, are: The Head Drummer, The Head of the
Pow Wow Committee, The Master of Ceremonies/Announcer. When giving this gift,
it is usually best to have the money folded up, in your palm, and shake the
person's hand. Give it one good pump, passing the money off surreptitiously,
and then step back. The money will not be counted in public. It is usually
best to give in increments of $20 USD, as this is often the most easily
- Gifts to family and friends should be held privately either before or
afterward. Technically, you can give as many gifts as you want, to as many
people as you want, but it is far better to err on the side of courtesy,
time wise, than it is to show off publicly how many presents you can give.
- You will want to clear the giveaway with the Pow Wow committee a week or
two in advance if possible. Perhaps longer if your tribe's Pow Wows are
particularly well-attended each year. While it is possible to be squeezed in
at the last minute, it is considered rude not to give the committee time to
schedule everything in. They might suggest a particular day and time, though
you are free to request one if those you are giving to will not be there
except for that time.
- Once the day of the big event happens, it is a good idea to visit the
committee and confirm. They should be able to give you a somewhat narrower
timeframe (e.g. "As soon as the switch-dances are over, which start at 4pm").
- Make sure you are prepared before you begin the ceremony. Everyone
involved should know what they are expected to do, and when. Not only will it
be embarrassing to have to stop in the middle to sort things out, but you
be using up time, and time is precious.
- Typically, the event will happen during the afternoon, and not at night.
Night is a time for the dances, contests, and other activities. It is not
that the giveaway is any less important, but rather that the nighttime
activities are usually what others have come to the Pow Wow to see. A
giveaway at night might be described as "inappropriate".
GIFTS can range in price from totally free, hand-made items, to
thousands of dollars. Generally, though, a giveaway gift should be something
useful or crafted, or both. Indian Blankets are a favorite, though to get a
good one, prices start in the hundreds and go up from there. Towels, flower
pots, shawls, ribbon shirts, fancy beadwork, cooking implements...items that
generally run along this theme. Of course if you are filthy rich, then I'm
sure no one would complain about receiving a Humvee or Winnebago (both of
which are useful).
- The Drummers usually do not get paid by the Pow Wow committee. They
are volunteers who are often singing and drumming the entire weekend. The
only funds they acquire for their services are those that are donated. It is
only right and proper to honor them. The Head Drummer will usually be the
only one you give money to, and he will evenly distribute the money to the
others. Alternately, instead of the handshake, the money can be laid on the
drum in front of the Head Drummer, who often sits to the east of the drums.
If you are giving a different amount of money to all three of these main
honors, this should get the medium amount.
- The money for the Pow Wow committee goes towards next year's Pow Wow, or
desperately needed improvements to the Pow Wow grounds. Of all the money
generated, it is most important to give to this one, and should command your
largest sum of giveaway money.
- The Announcer may or may not need a gift, talk to everyone you can,
several times. I was personally told not to give the Announcer money five
times, then found myself embarrassed at the end of my ceremony when several
others asked why I did not gift the Announcer. As I had already given all my
giveaway cash out, I had to dip into the return-trip home money and give him
a gift out of turn. Of the three, the Announcer generally commands the least
amount of money from the giveaway.
So how does HONOR work in a giveaway? As previously mentioned,
it's a very complex system, and there are no hard and fast rules, nor is
there a point system. As best I could tell, this is how honor would work in a
giveaway by yourself, in the Pow wow of a tribe you belong to:
- Different people receive gifts differently. You may end up with a very
somber individual who shakes your hand once, and then leaves. You may end up
hugged and kissed. The reception of your gift may even be used to comic
effect to elicit a laugh. Whatever your preconceptions of how someone should
receive a gift, this is the time to leave them behind. Whatever you give, no
matter how big, or how small, will bring honor and luck to your tribe.
- One might think the number or price of the gifts given would determine
the amount of honor gained to a tribe, family, or individual. Such is not the
case. After having witnessed many of these, and holding a giveaway myself, I
still cannot give you precise rules on this. I believe, as far as the gifts
themselves go, it is a combination of the amount of time and thought put into
a gift, the quality of it, and the value relative to your own net worth (a
rich man who gives ten Indian Blankets would likely garner less honor than a
pauper who gives one flowerpot that he personally hand-crafted, glazed, and
painted. Really, though it did not appear as if the gifts themselves
generated the majority of the honor.
- If you are holding a giveaway, you have already been honored. Remember,
giveaways are held to announce a life-changing event. Making Head Dancer or
Head Drummer, giving birth to a child, graduating college, all of these are
excellent reasons for a giveaway. The fact that you are sharing this moment
with those observing the giveaway means that you are honoring the tribe. The
greater the event one holds a giveaway for, the greater the honor bestowed
upon those watching. If it is some manner of unique circumstance, then
sharing that moment would be the highest honor given of all.
- Money. Plain and simple, dollars do help translate into honor for the
tribe. However, it's not quite as simple as plunking down a few hundred
dollars and being honored. The money that really counts appears to be
the money handed to you during the dance. After the announcement, you will
lead everyone in a dance, during which time others will likely shake your
hand and by doing so, slide money into it. Typically, half is kept by the one
throwing the giveaway, and half is given to the Big Three. If you decide to
give all of it, then there is twice the honor. Regardless, the true honor
stemming from money is what others give to you, to give to the Big Three.
This is the audience's way of saying "You have
honored me so much by allowing
me to witness this event with you, that I wish to contribute my own honor to
the event as well." So instead of thinking of the money in a dollar amount,
think of it in terms of the number of people who added their own honor to the
- Dancers will also add to the honor. During the dance that you will be
leading, others will stand up and join in. The more who join in, the more
honor is bestowed.
- If everything goes smoothly, according to plan (or at least looks that
way to everyone else involved) then honor is granted to those who supported
your request for a giveaway.
- Other factors certainly apply, such as tribal politics, how well you
managed to balance rivals vying for the honor, the amount of respect you show
everyone involved, the genuine nature of your aim in holding the giveaway,
and so forth.
- There is an easy way to tell whether or not you achieved a good deal of
honor from your tribe. If no one mentions it the rest of the Pow Wow, you
most likely failed to convey much honor to anyone. If, however, you get
stopped every five minutes by someone you've never met wishing to convey
their congratulations and warm wishes, to the point of being stopped at a gas
station miles away from the reservation, you did good.