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By: Zdenko Kahlina
What is a Pow Wow?
For those not familiar with Pow Wows, it is one of the oldest, most important and colourful Aboriginal ceremonies. I will try to explain this with this blog and following pictures.
Pow Wows traditionally have been dedicated to warriors and a way of giving thanks to the Creator for all that Mother Earth provides for Her people. In short a “Thanksgiving” ceremony.
The Pow Wow is the center piece of the Canadian Aboriginal Festival with visitors from all parts of Canada and around the world gathered in Hamilton at the Copps Coliseum to witness this most beautiful traditional ceremony. All peoples of all races and creeds are invited. In fact you do us honor by attending this great offering to the Creator.
What is a Pow Wow?
Pow Wows are all about drums, songs and dance. The drum – a term which describes the instrument and its complement of singers, what Americans would call a band – is the center of the arena and the center of attention. The drum performs songs for all occasions, including contest songs, flag songs, memorial songs, intertribal songs and more. Drums travel many miles to attend Pow Wows Dancers from as many as two dozen tribes will participate in dance competitions, with competitors broken into groups from toddlers through senior citizens. They’ll compete in fancy dancing, grass dancing, jingle dress dancing, bird dancing and singing, and many other structured dances.
The term “Pow Wow” originated by the early settlers observed the gatherings and often heard a particular word that refers to the Medicine Man. The Medicine Man is a very important person in the community and he was always greeted by most of those gathered. This name was heard at almost all gatherings and was misinterpreted by non-Native people to mean a gathering.
A Pow Wow is many things to many people. It is a time to thank the Creator, honour our warriors, meet old and new friends, share and enjoy the rich heritage and culture of our people as well as an opportunity to display or purchase arts and crafts.
The Pow Wow concept has not changed over thousands of years since their beginnings on the western plains of Turtle Island (North America). We are told by our Elders that in the beginning, the gatherings were usually held in the spring and the fall when people from various nations would gather. Over the years, the look and style has evolved to include English as well as other cosmetic changes such as colourful regalia. However, the cultural importance for the celebrations have remained the same. The Pow Wow is an important vehicle for handing down Native traditions from one generation to the next. It is also an excellent opportunity for all people to participate in a vibrant and vital aspect of Aboriginal heritage.
The instrument itself is a drum made from a wooden shell covered in rawhide. Today, cowhide usually is used, although a buffalo-hide head is not uncommon. The average drum is about two feet in diameter and can seat eight to ten people around it. In the Northern style of singing, drums are smaller and are often commercial bass drums, like those used in marching bands. The sticks used to strike the drum are usually thin fiberglass rods with a leather handle and leather-padded head.
There are about ten people in the average drum, seven or eight men and two or three women. In the Southern tradition, women are not seated at the drum nor allowed to strike it, but instead sit in a second row behind the men and sing. The people on a drum are required to know many songs, because a good drum is expected to sing for an entire Pow Wow without repeating a song. A song is started by the lead singer, who does not announce what song they are about to sing but simply begins with the lead.
To newcomers, songs can be the most puzzling aspect of a Pow Wow. It is not uncommon to hear a visitor say to the performer, “I didn’t know you were singing different songs.” To the contrary, there are literally thousands of songs and more are composed every year. Every song has its own unique characteristics and subtle effects. One of the differences between Northern and Southern-style Pow Wows is the way songs are sung. Northern songs are sung in a much higher falsetto voice and follow a different format in the way they are arranged. Both types of songs will be performed at the Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow. There are songs written for all occasions as well as for families and individuals. Some of the most common themes are flag songs, contest songs, inter-tribals, veteran songs and quitting songs. Just as the United States has its own National Anthem, nearly every tribe has its own Flag Song, which is a song dedicated to the flags that are brought in during the Grand Entry. The Flag Song is sung every time the flags are brought in, and every person in the arena is asked to stand and be silent to give the flags their proper respect.
Contest songs, which will be plentiful during the Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow, are written to test a dancer’s skill. They often increase in speed or stop in unexpected places to help the judged determine who among the dancers is the best. Contest songs usually are written to suit a particular dance style, such as grass or jingle dress. Inter-tribals are the most common form of song, sung for everyone to dance to and used as all-occasion songs. Sets of three or four intertribal songs are performed throughout the Pow Wow to keep spectators involved in the festivities.
Rules To Live By
There are certain rules Pow Wow spectators need to be aware of. First, pay attention to the Master of Ceremonies for directions as to what to do throughout the event. Everyone is invited to join in the social dances, such as inter-tribals, the blanket dance, honor songs and the two step. Spectators are encouraged to ask questions and learn more about the activities. However, it is taboo to touch anyone’s dance regalia or take photos or video without first obtaining permission. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the Pow Wow area and spectators are not allowed to enter or cross the arena unless the Master of Ceremonies calls for everyone’s participation. Above all, everyone is invited to watch, dance and learn about Native Canadian dance, music and culture.
Watch Pow Wow on “YouTube”:
Pow Wow (3:53)
May 06, 2006 - Native American Indian dancing @ Northeast Arizona, on White Mountain Apache land.
By Ed Potts
Teepee means “home” in our language.
Some in our tribe would also say teebee, both mean the same thing. They were made with buffalo hides in the old days, and later with canvas. This is one of the dwellings our poeple utilized because we were often on the move and it was perfect for that reason. It took very little time to set up and take down. There is a story about the design. It is said that it was given to a girl many years in the past. As she sat below an aspen tree relaxing she was given this gift that would house the people and it would be their home where ever they went.
The design itself was a curled up aspen leaf that was split at the top, forming the smoke holes. She was told how to make this design from buffalo hides and what poles to use to hold it up. It was a gift to the women so that they might have a home for their families. There is one other dwelling that we used it was called “cha tee” as the name says it was a tree house much like the teepee but made with just poles,bark and mud to fill the holes around the outside. These were used in the bush in areas where we would winter.
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