"The Pow Wow Trail" by Julia White

Traders and Vendors

Since the beginning of time, the people of earth have traded with each other exchanging everything from food to fur. So was born our modern-day barter system.

Natives are, and were, master traders. There was trade between tribes of the same Nation, as well as between Nations. Native peoples honored each other's talents and did not copy the crafts and art work from other regions. Instead, things made by other tribes of other cultures became prized items for trade.

Honorable traders from Europe opened the trade routes even further, and some set up permanent trading posts in the apparent middle of nowhere. However, it was widely known that what appeared to be the middle of nowhere was actually the middle of a trading route traveled by Natives and traders alike. It became usual to find a Zuni bowl in Minnesota, an Apaloosa horse in Mississippi, or Chumash shell work in Wyoming.

This tradition is still alive today, and every Pow Wow has traders who have bought items from Natives in various parts of the country, and usually from reservations. You can find Eskimo scrimshaw, Kachinas, hides, fur pelts, beads, Navajo rugs, and all sorts of treasures if you pause to look at the wares offered by the traders. You can buy a finished product or, if you're talented with your fingers and long on patience, the materials to make your own treasures.

There are also traders who sell something called "Dead Pawn". They have pegboards and glass counters loaded with magnificent jewelry, belts, and everything you can imagine. It is all handmade, it is usually silver with turquoise and coral, or it is finely worked leather. When I first encountered these traders, it bothered me a lot that families were forced to give up their prized possessions. Then I learned the interesting history of pawning and its place in the Native culture.

When the Southwest was first being settled, the early non-Native businesses were the traders. The large traders had "lending corners" where money could be borrowed with the more elaborate craft items left for security. This was the first step toward banking institutions long before there were actual banks established in these areas. These traders provided the only source of quick money Natives had. When they could afford to buy back their possessions, they did. Many times, however, the owner decided he didn't want it after all, or he had made something he liked better, or the owner passed away, or many other reasons which left their beautiful work unclaimed.

This led to quite an accumulation of what is known as "dead pawn", and some traders take it to large Pow Wows for sale there.

There are also vendors who sell art, music, books, clothing, and all manner of handcrafted items. Most make their own crafts, and you can watch them at work in their booths. If you're attracted to something, ask what it is and its purpose. You don't want to buy a fertility fetish for your 75 year old Aunt May!

Many vendors and traders make their living on the Pow Wow Trail, and it is an expensive proposition. Not only must they buy the materials to make their crafts, they must pay booth fees, travel costs and their living expenses on the road. It is important that they sell their creations, so you will find fair and competitive pricing. As a general rule, prices are far better, and value far greater, than you can find in retail outlets which sell Native goods.

Don't be concerned about the authenticity of the items displayed for sale. Pow Wow committees know the vendors, many of whom either travel The Trail or do the same event year after year. The committees and promoters are very strict about the quality, variety and authenticity of the goods sold.

If you have children with you, and plan to visit the shopping area, PLEASE keep the children under control, or put them safely by the arena, or leave them with a member of your party who may not be shopping. An unruly and careless child can cause much destruction and expense for a vendor. Also, the booth spaces are small, usually no bigger than 10 x 10 unless it is a double booth. This is a tight squeeze for all that is being displayed for sale. Be very watchful of large, bulky bags and backpacks. They can be as destructive as a child.

Most vendors don't accept credit cards, and some have been burned by bouncing checks. Cash works so, if you plan to buy, it would be a good idea to be prepared.

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