"The Pow Wow Trail" by Julia White

Pow Wow Protocol

When you attend a Pow Wow, it is important to remember that you are a guest, and an observer of ancient ceremonies and traditions that have survived every possible adversity. Here are things you need to know for proper behavior:
  1. Under No Circumstances Is Alcohol Or Drugs Allowed On Pow Wow Grounds. Alcohol is the greatest curse ever visited on the Native American, and it will not be tolerated. If you come to a Pow Wow drunk, or you bring alcohol or drugs with you, you will be escorted out by tribal security. If you can't stay sober for a few hours, then you're in the wrong place.

  2. The area for dancing and ceremonies is called the arena, and its boundaries are usually marked by hay bales set in a circle. There is a sheltered area which can either be in the form of an arbor, or simply a canopy, which designates a resting place for the elders, the dancers and singers, and the Pow Wow officials. Take care not to sit in these places, which are easy to spot if you pay attention. There will be chairs, articles of clothing, and other personal belongings in plain sight.

  3. It is common to see tipis and lodges set up on the grounds. These Are Not Open To The Public. Pow Wow participants live in the tipis during the gathering and they are, in fact, their homes for the duration. Respect their privacy. Tipis and other structures set up for classes and demonstrations will be clearly marked. If a map or guide to the area is offered, it would be a good idea to get one.

  4. Once the dance arena has been blessed with sage and prayer, it becomes spiritual ground. Do not walk across the arena, and don't allow your children to run into the arena. You will be chastised by the announcer or other Pow Wow official. I can think of no safer place for children than a Pow Wow, but that should not be a signal for them to run wild and be disrespectful.

  5. Don't Take Pictures At Random - Either Still Shots Or Video. Some large Pow Wows require that you register your camera, and will put a number on it. The announcer will tell the audience when pictures are permitted. Pay Attention. I have seen cameras confiscated and film destroyed because people did not listen, and did not take instructions seriously. If there is a particular dance you want to photograph, Ask Permission Of The Announcer. If he says no, give it up. Some dances are sacred, and are never to be photographed. If you see a dancer who is especially striking, ask if you may take a picture After He Or She Leaves The Arena. It would be a courtesy to take his or her name and address and send a print of the photo. Human kindness and consideration are always long remembered, and deeply appreciated.

    Protocol for pictures is different depending upon the part of the country you're in, and the customs of the Pow Wow Committee. If you see videos being taken, and professional looking camera crews, chances are they represent a Native organization which sells Pow Wow videos, or newspaper and magazine photographers who have gotten permission and clearance before the event. Be wise, and be cautious - ask first.

  6. A dancer's clothing is Regalia - not a costume - and is a prized possession. Some regalia has been handed down through the generations, and is priceless. When a dancer decides to "come out" in a particular style, the regalia reflects the spirit and customs of the people being honored. This is no small decision, and a "coming out" ceremony for a new dancer is cause for a great celebration. The regalia is handmade, usually by the dancer, friends and family, and every article has special meaning. It takes years to collect the items until the regalia is complete, and this involves no small expense. Do Not Ever Touch A Dancer's Regalia without permission. The regalia is an expression of spirit, and has been prayed over and blessed. Honor it, the person wearing it, and the living history it represents.

  7. Finally, put aside the Hollywood image of what an "Indian" looks like. Natives come in all sizes, shapes and colors. From the milky skinned blue-eyed blond and the green-eyed redhead to the dark brown and black, they are all Native in their heritage, blood and heart. Some are tall and stately, some are short and stocky. Some have long, angular faces; some have round faces; some have round eyes; some have almond shaped eyes, and some have a definite Oriental slant to their eyes. As you learn, and become more knowledgable of Native history and anthropology, you will become aware that these physical characteristics are a clear indication of the lineage of that person's heritage. Do not be so insensitive as to ask someone if they are "Indian", or "how much Indian are you, anyway"? Would you ask a native of Japan "how much Japanese are you, anyway"? Don't scoff! It's happened to me.

Look, learn, and enjoy.

  • "The Pow Wow Trail"

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