horseheader11.jpeGood Morning!

In July, my huband and I spent three weeks on the Blackfeet reservation. We were there with church volunteers and my friend, Patricia, where we were sponsoring some literacy and drug education programs. Plus, last week we were on the Crow reservation where we were again working with volunteers. Therefore, I thought you might like to hear something about the pow-wow, both the historical pow-wow and modern-day event.

The pow-wow — so much a part of the Western landscape and culture — attracts visitors from all over the world.

What are they all about?

endtour1.jpeOkay, let’s start first with the history of the modern pow-wow. Probably the early beginnings of the modern pow-wow has its roots in the summer/autumn gathering of the tribe. During the winter and spring months, the tribe would separate in their different bands to go their own way, to hunt and to prepare for the coming winter. Spring was of course devoted to gathering food and hunting. But in the late summer or early autumn the entire tribe would come together for ceremonials and religious renewal, as well as for cultural activities. It was a chance for young people to get to know other young people from other bands of the tribe, as well as for relatives and old friends to come together again. Often the Sundance was an part of the gathering, as well.

Today, at the modern pow-wow, you’ll see Indian and non-Indian people from all over the country enjoying the community and inspiring atmosphere of the pow-wow. Before we go any furhter, let me explain some terminology: there are some tribes (like the Navajo), who like to be referred to as Native Americans. But on the Northern Plains of North American, those tribes like the Blackfeet and Lakota, these people prefer to be called Indian. As one person put it to me, “I’m Indian and proud of it.”

Here in Los Angeles we have such a diverse and large American Indian population that if you were to ever attend one of our pow-wows, you’ll notice traditions being observed from all over the country. For instance, here in Los Angeles we have Aztec dancers, something one doesn’t see in the more northern pow-wows.

In the northern pow-wow, you’ll see the men’s Chicken Dance, something you won’t see normally in the Los Angeles Pow-wow.

powwowend21.jpeThere is much dancing and gift giving at the modern pow-wow. All ages participate and there is contesting within the different men’s and women’s forms of dancing. There are several different styles of men’s dances as well as women’s dances, as well. At many of the pow-wows in the west, you’ll also see the modern rodeo in action with some different aspects like the Indian relay race and the tepee raising contests.

There are food ventors — Indian fry bread is popular at all pow-wow’s that I’ve attended — and Native American jewelry of all kinds abounds. At the Blackfeet pow-wow there is the hand game and card games that continue well into the wee hours of the morning and at the Crow Fair pow-wow, one is treated to the sight of 500 or more tepees all set in the background of the beautiful Little Big Horn area.

Have you ever been to a pow-wow? If so, what are your observations? Are you thinking of attending a pow-wow? And if so, do you have questions you’d like to ask before attending? I will be checking into the blog all day long, so let’s start a discussion. I’d love to hear from you.

powwow1.jpeHere are three of us at an LA pow-wow, resting between dances. Patricia, on the left is a Traditional dancer, while Elaine and I are Fancy Dance dancers. As a note, each particular style of dance has its own regalia.

And for your info, all people are welcomed at the pow-wow, and many a romance has been sparked at pow-wow, both the historical, as well as the modern day pow-wow.

So come on in and leave a comment or two. See you later!


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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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24 thoughts on “Pow-wow’s”

  1. Karen, the Pow Wow sounds like a very fun and interesting celebration. I would love to attend one some day. What types of food were available??

  2. I’ve never been to a Pow Wow, but after reading your post, it sounds like something I’d love to do one day! 🙂

  3. Karen, I work on the Omaha Indian Reservation as a GED Instructor. The Pow Wow here is a huge community celebration and a tourist attraction. In Election years the governor comes and some state and national senate candidates so it grows into a pretty big deal.
    As the time gets nearer…we’ve had ours this year, it’s early August…the offices around me start playing music that is mostly drumming and very much rooted in their traditions.
    I’ve moved to another building recently but in the earlier years, the drummers would practice in my building and it was fun to listen too. Hard for my students to study, though.

  4. Karen,
    I go to every Pow wow they have in my area. I love them. Would not miss one for anything, car even broke down one year so i walked. Just wish there were more people at the ones here in Cadiz, Ohio.But its a small town so who knows maybe after word gets out.Would love to go to a pow wow out west.

  5. Karen,

    Interesting that some tribes prefer to be called ‘Indian’ when we’ve been told it’s politically incorrect. Fascinating stuff!

    I, too, would like to know more about the foods.

  6. Karen. . . Fascinating. I just put a pow-wow on my list of things I must do. Thanks for a great post.

  7. Hi!

    A special thank you to Buffie, AndreaW, Lorraine, Mary Connealy, Debbie, Charlene and Pam Crooks for your comments. Let me take them up one by one.

    First as to food. Like I said, the Indian fry bread is very popular. Indian fry bread can best be compared to a large, flat donut — probably not as sweet as a donut, however. It is usually eaten as a Navajo taco, with beans and ground beef and tomatoes and cheese. These are home made by each of the vendors and are delicious. Even though I’m a health food fanatic and eat almost exclusively Organic, I yearn for the Navajo taco whenever I’m at a pow-wow. Many people eat the Indian fry bread with cinnamon and powdered sugar, which really makes it like a donut, however, I prefer to eat the Indian fry bread with a buffalo burger. These you can get at many pow-wows, especially those up North, like the ones on the Blackfeet, Crow and Lakota pow-wows.

    You’ll also — especially here in the LA are — be treated to buffalo or beef jerky — usually home made — tamales, which are also homemade. When at a pow-wow, especially at the Blackfeet Indian Days pow-wow, there is alot of feasting — the Blackfeet people call these “feeds.” Here everyone is invited to come and particpate in the dinner. These require much preparation by the women of the tribe and feature meant (ribs, as well as buffalo and beef). There is also berry soup served at these feeds, which is one of the most delicious soups I’ve ever had. How it’s made, I don’t know, and you can’t buy it from one of the vendors. These are served at the feeds.

    There is also an assortment of your regular American foods, but mostly there is alot of BBQing and feasting separately (apart from the vendors) and these foods are delicious.

  8. Hi!

    Thought I’d answer your post, Mary. How interesting that government officials make a special effort to come to your pow-wow. Isn’t it interesing, too, that this happens most often during election years. Hmmm…

    Reminds me of a joke, but I’d best not say it here. Oh, well, I’ll tell it anyway. How do you know when a politician is lying?

    His lips are moving…

    Okay, I’ll slap my face (gently) and get on with the post. You have brought up another extremely wonderful subject — the pow-wow music.

    When going to a pow-wow, you’ll be treated to some of the most incredible music. It consists of a drum group — a drum group is a group of men (usually men) that can number between five or six to fifteen or more. They have their own specially made and indiviually made drum — this is quite large — perhaps — I don’t know, I’m not good with these kinds of estimates, but probably about six feet circular? — these men sit around the drum in chairs and while beating on the drum, sing their own special songs. The music is quite stirring, and a good drum group will inspire the dancers to dance to the very best of their ability.

    There is a lead singer who starts out the song, which is then followed by the rest of the group, singing the same melody and cadance. Outside of this, I can’t say too much, as these songs are very special. They come from the world around us — the birds in the sky can give one a song.

    There are very speical songs as well, and in Indian country, people own certain songs. One can have one’s own hand-game song, or relilgious song. In the old days, a man owned a death song, as well. But in Indian country, songs can be owned. A friend of mine once gave me permission to use her hand-game song in one of my books. This was Patricia, and it was, indeed, a special honor.

  9. Hi!

    Wow, thank you, Charlene, for your sweet compliment. Wow. Hi Debbie — Cadiz, OH — wow! Are you in the area of the mound builders, by any chance? What tribes sponsor your pow-wows. You aren’t by any chance in Seneca country, are you?

    Just wondering.

  10. Hi Kay, learned a lot, esp. that some tribes prefer being called Indian! Thanks for the fascinating details. I haven’t been to a pow-wow yet but I admire native cultures so it’s definitely something on my to-do list.

  11. I’d really like to attend a pow-wow but I’m afraid I’ll feel too much like an outsider and that I don’t belong. But, the way you describe the festivity it’s kinda like our county fair only with a kind of worship that’s rooted in deep ancestory beliefs. I’ve always been fascinated by the Native Americans. I met a Lakota Sioux family up in South Dakota and they were really neat. Every member of the family is musically talented. Do you mind if I ask which tribe you’re from?

  12. Hello again!

    Tanya and Linda, you would both be very welcome at a pow-wow. I think you’re right, Linda. These pow-wows have the flavor of an old-style fair but usually without the rides (although this year the Blackfeet did actually have rides at their pow-wow). However, the pow-wow is essentially different in the sense of community, a sense of belonging, of feasting and of gift-giving. It is said that if you do a good deed to an American Indian from the bottom of your heart (not as the government does, which expects something in return — it’s pound of flesh), but if you give wholeheartedly, the American Indian never forgets or fails to repay you in kind. Kindness given from the heart is never forgotten.

    I have found this to be true in nearly all my experience with the American Indians — the only exceptions being those individuals who (as in all societies) are already so strung out on drugs, that life has become a series of mishaps and crimes in a struggle to get the money to buy the next dose of drugs.

    My Nation is the Choctaw Nation. I am of mixed-blood, however, and also have Irish, German, English and Dutch.

  13. Hi Pat!

    Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, all of us who write Westerns would love — simply love the American Indian — or Native American — pow-wow.

  14. Fascinating post, Karen. I went to a pow-wow in Gallup NM many years ago but haven’t been since. Your description makes me want to go to another one. Your cover is breathtaking!

  15. Dear K:

    I read your remarks with interest. I remember how sad things were in 1962 at a Navajo Reservation near Tuscon. Perhaps many of our Native Americans are somewhat better off now?

    Off but related in some way, the subject, I have recently read 1000 Splendid Suns about Afghan women and now reading The Septembers of Shiraz about family “life” in Iran, long before we stuck our noses in. There is great injustice everywhere. At least most of us here mean well, even if we fall short of ideal, compared to most of the rest of the World, especially in the Middle East, Russia, and China where indignity and suffering are a way of life for 2/3rds of their people.

    There I go again.

    xx Lew

  16. Hi Elizabeth & Lew!

    Thanks so much for the compliment on the cover, Elizabeth. I so agree.

    And you are right, Lew, about injustice being a thing that is world-wide. However, to strive to be just and fair is a good thing, and I think that we should never lose sight of that to the apathy of thinking that there is no justice anywhere…so why try sort of thing. History counts. You’re right, also, about Americans being known to be a just and giving people. I personally think this is because of our sense of the freedom and dignity of each individual person, regardless of his/her race, religion or political viewpoint. I only hope that image still remains, and that it is still true.

    It must be fascinating reading what you are. Really fascinating, especially in the light of world events. But tell me more. You’ve spiked my interest.

    I’m off to get back to work, but more later.

  17. A Thousand Splendid Suns should be read by every USA woman. It describes thye life of 2 women growing up in Afghanistan in the periods fater WWII. It has been on the Best Seller list for several months but is not the usual pap that shows up on that list.It is written by the author of Kite Runner which describes a boy growing up there in the 70’s and 80’s.

    September in Shiraz is a novel about Jewish business peopleand families in Iran after the Mullahs took power, the arrests and torture mand killing of cultural men and women who were faultless.

    We need to understand that here we often screw up but our motives are good. I do not agree with many of those who deeply criticize our nation because they simply do not understand what life is like in the non English speaking world at this time.

  18. Hi Lew!

    Wow! Thank you so much for this riviting look at a subject that I can honestly say I am uneducated in. I recall reading somewhere when Regan was in office that he withdrew our troops from the Middle East because we simply didn’t understand the Middle East’s abberations in and about war — this is not a quote — and that there was no way of winning such a war.

    But one thing I do know is that their war has been going on for thousands of years, and it is probably very complex in its origin and its dealings. Thank you very much for this look at this area.

  19. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article s, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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