Native American Heritage Month: powwows

Maya Mitckess, Editor of Blogging

Powwow. An interesting word that everyone has heard, but not a lot of people know what it truly represents. Powwows are a chance for Native Americans to come together and pass down their culture from generation to generation all while creating spiritual and familial bonds. 

The term powwow derives from the Algonquin Indian word pau wau which means “he dreams”. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the concept of powwows originated when different tribes from the Great Plains came together to form alliances. The foundation of the powwow is the exchange of tribe-specific songs, dances, and ceremonies that occurred.

The modern-day powwows are not so different. They include all of that, but rather than an exchange, it is a celebration of Native American culture. It takes place over one to four days with non-Native American spectators welcome. Now, what events actually take place in a modern powwow? 

There are two types of powwows: competitive and traditional. The competitive powwow gathers the best dancers and musicians surrounding Native American culture to compete for money and prizes. A traditional powwow would forgo this practice and just gather people in celebration. Powwows begin with a Grand Entry where all dancers enter the circle and an opening prayer is said. The flag song to honor native, state, and American flags is then sung after. Dancing, music, and singing then commence with Native American handmade goods on sale as well and the celebration of a rich culture begins. The focal point of the powwow being the drums and singers who keep the tempo of the dancing and provide musical accompaniment for the days’ festivities. 

Want to go to a powwow? Find a list of powwows across the country with dates, time, and locations at However, there are a few things to know first. The proper edicate at a powwow is important when coming from non-Native American roots. Being respectful of the culture being displayed means not assuming anything or saying things like their outfits are “nice costumes”. The spiritual aspect of the powwow has meaning in things like the drums and circle, which is blessed, so don’t walk across the circle or mess with the beat of the powwow. Stand up for the Grand Entry and if you are healthy, offer your seat to the elders attending. Lastly, pictures of what is happening in the circle are usually welcomed, but ask first. 

Powwows are truly special events. It allows Native American culture to live on in a society that usually forgets them. Going to a powwow helps you become aware of the culture and you can make sure other people know about it too. Bring a donation, be respectful, listen, and share with others to help your local native nation (that you may not have known was there) all while having a fun time of friends, family, music, and joy.