A Pow Wow is an Indian gathering (Native American if you prefer), but is open to the public. They usually last three days and occur over a weekend. They focus on drumming, dancing, eating, teaching, socializing, and cultural sharing. The Pow Wow season is generall summer, but Pow Wows can be found year round in some areas. Traditionally, Pow Wows were hosted by a tribe to welcome and honor other tribes or people, but many are now sponsored by Universities and colleges. It is important to remember that no matter who puts on a Pow Wow, all people (including non-Indians) are welcome and Pow Wows can be a great cultural experience.
Some Pow Wows are competition Pow Wows, and significant prize money is available for the top dancers in each category, and sometimes the best drum group. Less formal, more traditional Pow Wows may feature giveaways, honorings, adoptions and other ceremonies.
An important part of the gatherings is giving honor and respect to those in the community who have earned it. Indians have great respect for Veterans who have served in the armed forces, and honoring those people plays a big part in the ceremonies. Part of the Grand Entry, the opening of each day, features an honoring song for veterans. Elders are also held in great esteem in the Indian community, and are featured and honored throughout the weekend. When food is served (as it seems to be continuously in Indian gatherings) the Elders eat first. If you watch closely, the Elders are constantly being taken care of, being doted on by the younger generations. Pow Wows are places where young people are exposed to the language, values and teachings of the elders. It's a great thing for non-Indian kids to see.
A Pow Wow is fun. One thing that Indians have no shortage of is laughter. The MC (Master of Ceremonies) at the Pow Wow not only provides a running commentary of events, announcements, and background information about the dances, rituals and spirit of the Pow Wow, but instills humor into the proceedings. Pow Wows aren't serious affairs. There are serious moments, and moments of incredible beauty and quite a few very moving times, but most of the time spent at a Pow Wow will be sheer enjoyment.
Pow Wows are about drumming and singing and dancing and sharing. Mike Hotaine, a Master of Ceremonies and Dakota Indian puts it well:
"It's a celebration of people coming together to share and communicate. No matter what part of Mother Earth you're on, that part of land is relative, and whoever walks on it is your friend, your 'koda.' That's how we look at it. When we come to a celebration, a Powwow, it's like a bunch of birds coming together to communicate, to talk about things, about life. It's about a new beginning that we will create for each other, for two people, and then we will fly away. And that's exactly what will happen here. We come together this weekend, and after it's finished we'll be going home in our directions and the Powwow will be finished. And we will go home feeling a different beginning, a different beginning that's happened."
I will be noding the different dances and Proper Pow Wow etiquette seperately. There was simply too much to put in one write up.