The primary purpose may have been giving thanks to the creator or honoring someone's accomplishments, but the gatherings also gave tribes a chance to gather, eat and celebrate their own version of the Good Life.
Today, non-Native people can join in the fun and learn something about Indian traditions through powwows held at fairgrounds and city parks and on reservations throughout the country. Powwows are sponsored by tribes, schools, museums, Indian casinos and other organizations, with the goals of strengthening social connections, dispelling stereotypes, fostering understanding of Indian culture and tradition and, of course, having a good time. Irene Cornell, who first went to powwows as a child in Oklahoma, says word-of-mouth was once the only way to hear about such events. Directions were usually vague, along the lines of "turn on the dirt road a little ways past the field where the sunflowers used to be." She and her aunt would drive the country roads, looking for cars full of Native Americans that they could follow to the festivities. Now, word spreads through Web sites, newspaper ads and community calendar listings. Leonda Levchuk, the public affairs specialist at the
A Richly Woven FabricSince the powwow style of dancing, drumming and singing was not universal among all of the 500 currently recognized American Indian tribes, today's celebrations are a blend of cultures and traditions. The word itself hails from the Algonquin language, and many of the powwow dances originated among the Plains Indians. A staffer from the Southern California Indian Center in Los Angeles says, "Every tribe had its own way of doing things, but traditions were lost when people moved off the land. Now people get together at powwows to get back in touch with the traditions." According to Levchuk, many Indians "bring their children so they can learn to dance, learn songs and be exposed to traditions in an intertribal way." Powwows have some elements in common with craft fairs and county fairs, including an abundance of booths selling food, clothing and jewelry. However, here you're likely to find buffalo burgers,
|Traditional Male Dancer|
|Photo: Katherine Fogden, NMAI|