Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Native American Culture is Alive and Well on the Powwow Trail

American Indian tribal groups hold powwows every year all over the United States and Canada from roughly March through December.

These events hearken back to celebration ceremonies held long before Europeans made contact with Native peoples. As such, powwows are a window into Native Americans spiritual beliefs, expressions of joy, grief and recognition.

An excellent example of a powwow will be hosted by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians from September 23rd - 25 th in Cabazon, CA.

Called the "2011 Morongo Thunder and Lightning Powwow", the event will be held on the impressive Morongo Casino grounds about 60 miles east of the Los Angeles Basin (just north of the I-10 freeway).

It's approximately 20 minutes northeast of Palm Springs...making it easily accessible. (Photo: Morongo Band of Mission Indians)

It's an open event so all visitor are welcomed!

What is a Powwow?

The American Indians and their Canadian cousins have a long history of gathering for various types of celebrations. These included ceremonies honoring the bravery of warriors and recognition of the battles they fought, events that created an opportunity of social interaction with other tribal groups and important religious/cultural observances.

The term is believed to have come from Rhode Island's Narragansett tribe's word for a spiritual leader (i.e. a "pau wau"). When meetings we're held with Europeans, new to America's East Coast native peoples, spiritual leaders we typically present. The Europeans hearing this term apparently took it to mean the meeting itself and not a designation for those tribal dignitaries in attendance.

In any case, the Europeans began using this term broadly to describe any native meeting or celebration. It is now the common term in use across the U.S. and Canada.

It's Not Just a Dance...It's a Pageant!

Today's powwow has moved far beyond just a local tribal get-together (although these are certainly still held
for tribal members).

As the various "drums" ( the collective term for those who sing and simultaneously play the drums) take turns performing for the "Grand Entry" portion of the event, all of the competitive dancers make their way into the arena.

A Grand Entry is usually held twice a day...once in the early afternoon after lunch (about 1:00 PM) and again after the dinner break in the early evening (around 7:00 PM). (The times are commonly announced at the powwow and publicized in event flyers).

Between the dramatic drumming, the high falsetto call-and-response singing and dazzling regalia of the dancers moving in time to the drum, the scene can quickly overwhelm the eyes and ears of the uninitiated visitor.

At larger powwows, like the Morongo event, the arena floor can be filled to capacity and become a shimmer of color and movement. (Photo: Press Telegram)

It is truly an inspiring and invigorating spectacle...highly worth experiencing in one's life!

Originally, each tribe used the styles created by their own members. But, as interaction among the tribal groups increased dances, songs and drum patterns where shared and adopted from other tribal groups.

Today, the dances, songs and drumming are typically based on the plains Indians' styles...representing both northern and southern plains styles.

All ages and genders participate in dances and in today's powwow world these are often "judged" competitions.
The winners of each category will usually receive either money or some other reward for being the top performer in their particular age, gender and style category.

Examples of age categories include: tiny tots, junior boys and girls, men and women's groups and seniors (both men and women).. The dance categories range from the Men's "Fancy Dance", "Northern Traditional", "Southern Straight", and "Grass Dance" styles to Women's "Jiggle Dress", " Northern Traditional" and "Fancy Shawl" dance styles...to name a few.

And, for good measure powwows will include opportunities for, not only the competitive dancers to perform but, for anyone attending to join in the dance. This occurs when "intertribal" dances are announced...which punctuate the formal dance competitions.

Then dancers dressed in their finest regalia, along with any attendee desiring to join the throng on the dance floor, can make their way around the arena using their best dance step. (Photo: Dallas Examiner.com)

In addition to the powwow ceremonies, there will are vendors of every sort. Their offerings include: jewelry, clothing, artwork, pottery and a host of food options.

See you on the Powwow Trail!

So, if you're in Southern California during this event come and visit for an exciting experience of America's early heritage that's still alive today.

If you live elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, google for a schedule of the next powwow in your local area (also see: the "500 Powwows" website).

If you are outside of North America, look for a powwow that coincides with your next trip to North America.

You'll be glad you did.

(Note: Post information obtained from various sources).


  1. I have yet to make it to the Morongo pow wow but I am going to try this year! Great post! Thanks :)

  2. Hi Elisa,

    Thanks for visiting our site and for your comment. See you on the Powwow Trail!

    The Editors