General Guidelines to Follow
A Pow Wow is a Native American gathering that was originated to bring many tribal members together in peace and harmony, and to this day this tradition has continued. The tribal members congregate to show support for one another as well as display traditional wares and dance. Also, Native American foods are available for you to sample.
For many years, Pow Wows were closed off to the public for various reasons, but now the American Indians welcome anyone who has a true interest in the culture and fellowship. Pow Wows are a great source of learning about Native American culture, and most tribes encourage the public to come.
Before attending a Pow Wow, there are several things you should know. Pow Wows have rules of etiquette that should be followed. These rules have been handed down over generations from elders to youth and represent respect, brotherhood, and courtesy for the tradition and life. Every Pow Wow has a “Master of Ceremony.” The “Master of Ceremony” is usually a tribal head or an elder. The job of the “Master of Ceremony” is a demanding one, for it is this person who leads the entire Pow Wow.
The “Master of Ceremony” begins the “Grand Entry” where the dancers enter the ring and are seen in full regalia for the first time. This person also has all control of any activity within the Pow Wow and leads many prayers. You should stand and men must remove their hat (unless traditional head gear) during the Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Invocation, Memorial, Veterans Songs, and the Closing Song. At closing, a prayer will be said to send you on your way. The Master of Ceremonies will determine if you should or should not stand during closing prayer. If you are near the arena and dancers are dancing, you should again sit down until the dance is finished. Do not sit within the arena. The chairs inside the arena are reserved for the dancers. Use the outside circle or bleachers if provided.
During the Gourd Dancing, only Gourd Dancers and Gourd Dance Societies are to enter the Dance arena. Remember: owning a gourd rattle does not make one a Gourd Dancer. Check with the local Societies. Please do not permit your children to enter the dance circle unless they are dancing.
The arena is the area where dancers step lively and show their traditional dancing skills. The arena is in the form of a circle. The reason the dancers always dance within this circle is because the circle represents “The Circle of Life.” Being invited to dance in the circle is the only time a spectator is allowed in the arena.
If you want to take pictures, check with the pow wow host first, then check with the person you are taking pictures of and ASK THEIR PERMISSION. Under no circumstances may you enter the arena to take photos. Put your camera down for all memorial dances. All tape recording must be done with the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead (or Head) Singer of EACH drum. When a new drum starts, do not enter the arena to get to the other drum. Don’t run. Miss the song and wait for the next one to take your time getting to the drum. Nothing is more rude than “Recorder-runners” circling around a drum. Many Pow Wows disallow this anyway. To take a photograph or make a videotape, or make a sound recording, without permission, shows lack of respect for the culture.
Only those with the permission of the Lead Singer may sit at a drum. (And it’s a good idea to know the songs because it’s often a habit to ask the “stranger” to lead one.)
If you are asked to dance by an elder, do so. It is rude and disrespectful to say, “I don’t know how.” How can you learn if you turn the elders down?
Exercise respect during these special times because these are the most sacred times during a Pow Wow. Exercise good judgment at all times. No matter how tempting, do not touch the regalia of any of the dancers. Touching any part of a dancer’s costume shows lack of education for the culture as well as lack of respect for tradition. Many of the parts of dancers’ costumes are eagle feathers that have been blessed. If you touch the eagle feathers, the dancer will need to disrobe and have the parts blessed again. In extreme cases, the dancer will not be allowed to dance.
Again, the drums are sacred, and it is believed that anyone who takes a place behind the drums has been selected by God to be there. No one drums without special permission, and no one sits in the drumming area without special permission of the head singer. Great offense is taken if you choose to sit in this area.
No one will make unreasonable demands; you can count on that. The invitation may be for a simple dance. You should accept all invitations graciously and enjoy yourself. You should never turn down an invitation by anyone, especially elders, during a Pow Wow. If you are not wearing traditional Regalia, you may dance only on social songs (like Two-Step, Blanket Dance, Honoring Songs, Circle, etc..). Sometimes a blanket dance is held to gather money. You may enter the circle to donate. If you want to participate but you do not know the dance steps, most are easily learned and someone will instruct you as you go.
Never bring alcoholic beverages, drugs, or attend a Pow Wow under the influence of any such substance. The Pow Wow is a place of happiness and brotherhood so do not spoil it for yourself or others by attending under the influence.
Urban Pow Wows are much more “rigid” than a Pow Wow on the rez. As people are away from the comfort of culture, they tend to take things more seriously. Please abide by peoples wishes and requests. Each tribe has their own ways and does things differently. Some dance around clock-wise, others counter clock-wise. If the host asks, dancers sometimes voluntarily show their respect by temporarily changing their way(s). Show your respect by doing the same.
There is so much to be learned from a Pow Wow. Remember always that Native American Indian dances are more than the word “dance” can describe. They are a ceremony and a prayer which all life encompasses and produce many emotional and spiritual reactions. Some dances are old, some are brand new… the culture continues to live and evolve. You will indeed be enriched by knowledge of and respect for a culture that is the oldest in this country. You will also reap the blessings that everyone receives from attending a Pow Wow.
Please Note: Every POWWOW is different! The key is respect!
If you are participating: be respectful by being on time!
Bring a lawn chair to set up at an unoccupied area on the peripheral of the circle.
Enjoy yourself and feel comfortable that no one will make unnecessary demands upon you. Feel free to ask questions; if you need instruction, someone will help you.
If you are not wearing traditional regalia, you are generally welcome to be an active dance participant during social songs.
Follow the instructions and lead of the Master of Ceremony.Do not join the dance until the leader’s ground members are on the floor.
Accept all invitations graciously and “always be reverent at the appropriate times.”
Women who are not shaking shells should not join the dance until the majority of shellshakers are on the floor and should never get in front of a shellshaker.
Adhere to the intermittent male-female dance formation (i.e., a man should not join the dance behind another man, a woman should not get behind another woman).
Be aware that it is polite and respectful to ask permission before taking photos, videos or sound tracks.
Do not touch any parts of the regalia of the dancers.
Very short dresses, skirts or shorts are not appropriate attire.
Never bring alcoholic beverages or drugs, gold paint cans or attend a Pow Wow under the influence of any other such substance. Alcohol and drugs are destroying our way of life and these “bad” spirits are not welcome.
Do not participate in any type of inappropriate behavior or purposely offend. It is not the place!
After the dance has ended, return to your chair.
Relax and have fun. Donate, if you can. Also , if possible, buy something from the vendors.
Make an extra effort to walk to the trash can. No one should have to clean up behind you after you leave. Respect Mother Earth.
Leave enriched and feeling blessing.