"The Pow Wow Trail" by Julia White

Readers Questions

This section is for those wishing to know answers to specific questions related to Pow Wows. Please use the form below to direct your questions to Julia.

The questions and subsequent answers will appear on this page.

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Are there subscriptions to Native American magazines that are available to all, if so could you provide one that would list Pow Wows for California? Thank-you and by the way GREAT WEBSITE!
Wanda Young

Hello, Wanda. Native Peoples is probably the best known Native magazine and it is excellent. There's a link to it on my site, Innerspace, on the links page. It gives information on how to subscribe, and you may be able to do that online. Also, at the end of the excerpts for the Pow Wow Trail on Innerspace, there are links to sites that list Pow Wows and many other Native events.

I just printed all the pages but I would like to know about religious rituals and how they are performed and fit into the pow wow format?
Jim W.

What you refer to as "religious rituals" are sacred ceremonies which are not open to the public, Jim. What you would see is the blessing of the grounds, and perhaps some special prayers that may be offered.

I bought a copy of your book. I love it! It is filled with such good information and makes me feel much more at ease at the pow-wow's. I am grateful that you wrote it. I love to dance during the inter-tribal dances. My question is: I know it is respectful (and traditional) to wear a shawl while dancing. Is any kind of shawl okay or is there a certain kind that should be worn? Only the kind with fringe like others wear or would lace be okay? Thank you for writing your book!
Alvarita Thomas

Thank you for your kind words, Alvarita. I'm very pleased that you enjoyed The Pow Wow Trail, and that you learned some things from it. To answer your question, anything that can be worn as a shawl-type covering over the shoulders is acceptable. I've even seen cotton sweaters and such tied around the shoulders to make a shawl. It's the acknowledging of the tradition that's important.

Julia....I am fascinated by the wealth of information you have about native americans. I have yet to attend a "pow-wow", but am looking forward to my first experience in October....my question is, while there, would there be someone there I could speak to about spiritual beliefs, past lives, and "lost" tribes? And if so, the "proper" way to approach these people?? I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.

It's doubtful that you can find anyone to discuss these things with, Susie, but you should look. Sometimes there will be booths run by teaching groups that has various information and handouts, and they are happy to answer questions. However, don't be disappointed if you don't find anything. A PowWow is a very busy place, and they are occupied with the business at hand.

I am trying to find a book that would show some or at least several native american symbols. Does anyone ever sell books at the pow wows? I am trying to learn more about different beliefs and symbols I have found a few Sioux general symbols but i know there are many many more.

Yes, Rick. Most Pow Wows, and all of the large ones with vendors, have at least one book seller there. Also, Amazon.com has quite a selection of everything. Just search their site for American Indian Symbols.

O'siyo, I would like to know how I could become a vendor at a Pow Wow? I do many Native crafts and Southwest crafts. I am being taught by a man in So. Dakota, a medicine man. The crafts I do, I do to make money to send food and other needy things to the needy on the reservations. Usually 20% to 30% of what I take in goes to them. I would greatly appreciate any info you could give me. Thank you. Mitakuye Oyasin
Linda Dudar

Hello, Linda. It's not difficult to become a vendor. You need to find a Pow Wow near you and contact the committee or sponsor that is responsible for the gathering. This contact information is almost always on flyers that are handed out and available, and very often there is a special number for vendors to call. They will send you a form to fill out and return with your booth fee, and that's all there is to it. Take care to take plastic sheets or oil cloth or something that's water resistant to cover your merchandise with again moisture, dew, rain, dust - whatever comes along - if the event is outdoors. You don't want to have all your hard work destroyed. Good luck to you!

Are Pow-Wow's in any season? If not what times are they in?

Pow Wows are held all year. In bad weather, they move inside. The outdoor season actually begins around March, or as soon as the weather allows depending on the part of the country involved.

Why are the Indians getting away with selling Mexican Jewelry as their own at any Pow-Wow I have been to ???
Bob Nizza

The tone of your question is very interesting. You forget that the indigenous peoples of Mexico are every much Native American as those of Canada, the U.S., Central and South America. At one time, there were many, many tribes in Mexico, and hopefully their skills have been passed to the decendants. Their craft work is outstanding. They are just as welcome to sell their wares at any Pow Wow they can get to, or have them represented at, as any other group of Native artisans.

Will I need to have a card to come to the pow wow? I am doing my Family Tree and I was told I was Cherokee. I'm learning about the Cherokee. I would like to go to a pow wow soon.

tsa ga li i
Marilyn McDaniel

Hello, Marilyn. I'm sorry that people have planted such insecurities in your heart. No. You don't need the infamous card to attend Pow Wows. Some Pow Wows discriminate against vendors this way, but never the attending public. There wouldn't be anyone there! Go......and enjoy.

Dear Julia,
Thank you for this wonderful information! I attended my first Pow-wow yesterday and found it very moving. The "regalia" that the dancers wore were very colorful and beautiful.

I am a musician and I teach at a year round school in Michigan. We will be having an Intersession with the theme of Native America in October so I am gathering as much "authentic" information as I can before I teach the students songs in the Native American style.

I didn't feel comfortable asking a lot of questions at the first Pow-wow and I hope with my second I will be able to gather more information. My question is this, when the drummers sing...I noticed mostly vocables were used...is this something they rehearse or is it spontaneous with the flow of the dancing and drumming. They all followed one another closely and I could not find what I would call a repeated vocal pattern in the music. I would appreciate your input. I am also very interested in ordering your book. Thank you so much for your time in putting all of this together.

Lori Cleland

Lori -- I'm very pleased that you enjoyed your first Pow Wow. While the singing does sound like vocalizing, they are actually songs sung in the language of the drum. Some songs are very old and have been passed through generations. Others are contemporary and written about events in society today. This is discussed in the book, and I think you'll find it very helpful and informative. Best of luck.

I am participating in the first Pow Wow at City College of San Francisco. I have taken on the responsibility of making sure the colors are presented at the pow wow. I have been able to secure the staffs. I don't know what the staffs look like or what they mean. Could you give more information on this. Also there is a controversy over the issue of presenting the American flag. I read some information on the Web that said traditionally the American flag is presented. I have also heard that the American flag is not honored. Could you speak to this issue at all?
Atlanta Heidhues

My - what a responsibility you've taken on. :> On the question of flags, I have never heard of the American flag not being presented at a Pow Wow that's open to the general public. The common flags are the American flag, the POW-MIA flag, and the flag of the hosting tribe. If you're afraid of controversy, your best bet would be to talk with the sponsors of the Pow Wow, and the Pow Wow Committee. As to the various staffs and their meanings, I would urge you to contact the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. They will surely have a great deal of information and assistance for you. Best of luck for a wonderful gathering.

What is the actual name for the face paintings on some of the people? Is there a web page to describe what different designs mean? I am specifically interested in the design of a hand at a 45 degree angle across the face. Thank you,
Michael T. Smith

What a great question, Michael. I have been taught that the designs and colors of the face paint worn by many dancers is a personal statement of a spirit message, a vision, or has a sacred spiritual meaning for the wearer. The face paint is highly personal and individual to that person, and it is not proper to ask its meaning unless you know the person really well. Even then, he may not share that information. To the best of my knowledge, there is no common "formula" or meaning to the face paint.

Hello. Glad I found your page. The question I have for you is... I understand that in a inter-tribal dance that if women not in regalia wish to dance then it is proper to wear a shawl. Why is this so, what does the shawl represent, and what kind of shawl is proper vs. improper.

I've been attending Pow Wow's for a couple of years and have felt a strong urge to dance the Gourd dance. I've done so but would like to learn more on that. So any info you can give would be much appriciated also.

Hello, Steve.
The answers to the questions you ask are discussed at some length in my book, The Pow Wow Trail. The Gourd Dance is customarily performed by members of The Gourd Dance Society, which is made up of veterans of various wars. If you were allowed to participate, you were indeed honored.

Julia, I would like to know if you honor someone at a pow wow, say visiting royalty, how do you go about it? I know you give gifts and money but is there a dance involved? If so what kind of dance and what is the protocol? Thanks,

The most common protocol I have seen has to do with an "Honor Dance". The announcer calls the dance, and the procession is led by the arena director, the person or persons being honored followed by members of the family and special friends. As the processions winds around the arena, all are invited to join. Those who care to join approach the honoree, shake hands, and drop sage, sweetgrass, a feather, tobacco, money, or other such gift into a receptacle held by the arena director. They then fall in at the end of the procession and continue with it around the arena. If the person is elderly or infirm, there is a special seat made. People approach, shake hands, and drop their gift onto a blanket or into a receptacle for that purpose. This is discussed in more detail in my book, The Pow Wow Trail. I hope this answers your question, and thank you for your interest.

Julia, Greetings from New Mexico.
I have been invited to join in a mens gourd dance at the upcoming Las Cruces Pow Wow. What can you tell me about what this entails? Thanks
Patrick McNulty

Patrick: The Gourd Dance Society is made up of veterans of various wars, and the dance is performed by those veterans and the wives of both survivors and those who did not survive as an honor dance. It is very solemn, very serious, and not to be taken lightly. If you have been invited to take part in this dance, and you are not Native, then you have performed some great service to the Native community that has brought you to their attention. You should speak to the person who invited you to participate, and get detailed instructions.

What kind of music is being played on powwows? What kind of instruments do they use today? The theme is really interesting for me, please, please, answer!
Stefan Diercks, Germany

Hello, Stefan. The drum is the heartbeat of a Pow Wow, and the music is the voices of the singers. Depending on the part of the country you're in, you may hear guests play the flute, or pan pipes, or even conch shells, but the drum carries the spirit of the gathering. The songs range from very, very old - passed down through the generations - to contemporary songs written to honor a particular group - such as "Soldier Boy" for Natives who have served in wars of this country - to songs which poke fun at society and politics. Sometimes they are sung in English, but they are usually sung in the language of the singers.

Hi: My question is. Is it improper for a non native person to ever wear a dress made of doe skins or other material? Also if I did wear one to a pow wow would I be going against any Indian religious rituals by decorating it or should I not do this at all? Thank You
Edie Dubar

Hello, Edie.
Thank you for your very insightful question. Many people wear beautiful clothing made of skins, leather, suede, etc., and much of it is decorated beautifully. However, if what you want is a Native-style dress, decorated with Native symbols, beadwork and the like, you should either hire someone who specializes in this type of clothing to do it for you, or talk with someone you know from the tribe you would like to honor. It would not be proper to have clothing depicting a Native custom or way of life, and have the wrong symbols, colors and such. It really all depends upon your intent, and why you want the clothing. I have seen non-Natives wearing exquisite reproductions of authentic clothing which is worn proudly and with honor for the traditions represented, and no one takes offense. It all depends upon the heart of the wearer. :)

Although we went to dances as a child, I've just begun at age 50 to attend Pau Wau, I see dancers in their fine regalia, men and women. Is it acceptable to ask a dancer what her tribal affiliation is, or the significance of her headdress. Or is that in poor taste? The handwork (beading, sewing, etc) is so lovely. Thank you for your guidance

Hello, Gwen.
It is totally acceptable to ask questions of the dancers, or anyone you see in regalia, about the meaning of their clothing, etc. They would be very flattered that it has been appreciated. However, I would caution you not to reach out to touch anything being worn. The regalia in its entirety is very powerful medicine, and sacred to the wearer.

Thank you for this beautiful site. Please can you tell me why all the drummers are not in costume ? I have only seen Pow Wow's on video. Thank you.
Melody King

Hello, Melody. Yours is an excellent question, but please -- the clothing worn at Pow Wows is "regalia", not a costume. The regalia represents the tribal heritage of the dancer, and the customs of those being honored by the dancer.

The singers (drummers) do not usually dress in full regalia unless they also compete in the dancing. Not all singers are competition dancers. It would be very, very uncomfortable to sit for so many hours in such ornate clothing which is heavy and hot. Even those who do enter the dancing competition will take off their feather bustles and headdresses when they sit at the drum. As a matter of fact, they take off all the regalia they can when they're sitting for long periods. :)

You're in the U.K. -- right? Nice to hear from you.

As someone who practices sacred dance and is not a native american, I would appreciate knowing when it is appropriate to join the circle dancing around a fire; at a native american music festival I very much wanted to participate but didn't want to change the feeling of the dance for those dancing. Thank you for this site and the clarity with which you pose and answer questions.

Hello, Elaine. Thank you for your kind words. At any Native gathering, it is always proper to join the dancing when the announcer calls a social dance, an inter-tribal, or says that all are welcome in the circle. Any other time, it would be proper to ask the announcer, the arena director, or whoever is supervising the dancing if you may join.

Are there many Pow-Wows given just for the cultural and spiritual experience. Where the dancers, drummers, vendors,etc. come to help another tribe with a pow-wow and to join them in an inter-tribal festival, and not want to be payed a big price to do this? Isn't that the purpose?
Debra Dudenhoeffer

You're right, of course, Debra. There are many such gatherings held year-round all over the Americas. Most of these are not open to the general public, and are celebrations held for many reasons by the various tribes in a given area.

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