Revitalizing Native Cultures

Pow Wow Culture

Powwow dancers Powwow dancers

Each of the dance events at a pow wow — like Northern Traditional, Southern Straight, the Grass Dance, or the Fancy Feather Dance — have traditions in both the regalia and the movements of the dance. But within those traditions there is a lot of room for individual expression. Many of the regalia and dances are really works of art.

In A Seat at the Drum, Paula Starr says she used to be able to tell what tribe people at pow wows were from. "You could tell by their moccasins and their regalia, their outfits," she says. " 'Oh, that's a Comanche,' you know. 'Look at their moccasins.' And you wouldn't even have to get that close. You could just tell. Nowadays, it's kind of hard to distinguish what tribe a person is because of all the rhinestones and neon colored stuff."

In contrast, the stomp dance that LeAnne Howe and the Eastern Cherokees dance at the end of Spiral of Fire seems very different. For one thing, there is no big drum. Instead, the women tie shakers around their legs made of tortoise shells or tin cans with small stones in them. The women keep the beat by stomping their legs, shaking the shells. There is no audience. Instead, everyone who comes to a stomp dance participates. There are no electric lights. Instead, the dancers move in a spiral around a campfire. There is no special regalia. Dancers dance in street clothes.

So, the stomp dance may seem to be a profound expression of Cherokee identity, while the Orange County Pow Wow seems to be crass commercialism taking advantage of the worst Hollywood stereotypes.

Yet, even in the middle of the LA pow wow, Mark Anthony Rolo found a connection to the "small, lonely band of Relocation pioneers on Hill X" — the pioneers who founded the Orange County Pow Wow.

In a recent book entitled Powwow, author Gary Ellis quoted a dancer from Oklahoma: "Even when I go to Red Earth [one of the big, commercial pow wows] you know what really gets me going? It's when one of those drums sings a Comanche song. I say to myself, 'Hey, good, that's one of our songs. It really reminds me of who I am and why I'm here. So that's what I'd say about this Pan-Indian stuff."

Page 1 | 2

^ back to top