What is a pow Wow?

Traditionally, a Pow Wow was an annual event held in the spring, after the winter snows had melted. It was a time to celebrate the renewal of life. It was a time to renew old friendships and form new ones. It was an opportunity to hold naming ceremonies and other traditional honoring ceremonies.

Pow Wows continue to be an important part of the lives of many First Nations people and are held every weekend from early spring to late fall throughout Canada and the United States. Many families ‘hit the Pow Wow Trail’ and camp along the way. There are often impromptu singing and dancing competitions at the campsites.

Please remember Anishinaabe dances mean more than the words imply. Dances are a ceremony and a prayer which encompasses all we believe.

Scroll down to learn more about the various songs and dances you will see at the Curve Lake Pow Wow.

Pow Wow Dances, songs, and traditions

The circle has always been an important symbol to Native people. It’s importance can be seen extensively at Pow Wows. The Drum is at the very centre of the circle, with the drummers surrounding it. The Dancers dance around the drummers in either a clockwise or counter clockwise direction, according to the regional and Tribal traditions.

The Grand Entry is the parade of dancers participating in the Pow Wow. The Eagle Staff is carried into the circle by a Veteran or a Respected Elder, followed by the Canadian Flag and Tribal flags. Respected Elders, Veterans and invited dignitaries are next. The men follow, Traditional Dancers first, then Grass Dancers, followed by Traditional Women Dancers, Fancy Shawl Dancers and Jungle Dress Dancers.

After the grand Entry there is a Flag Song and an invocation blessing for the gathering. The Eagle Staff is tied to a pole in the centre of the arena or brought to the announcers stand. It is important to remove one’s hat and stand during the Grand Entry and through the Flag Song and Blessing. The Announcer will let you know when you may sit down.

Songs are created and performed for Grand Entry, dance categories and for Honor ceremonies. There are songs for all occasions. There are Honor songs, Veteran songs, and war party songs. Though they may differ in tempo, words and emotions, most Pow Wow songs follow a similar structure. The songs are not written, but recorded and learned by both singers and dancers. The melody of a song gains energy and rhythm as the falsetto voice descends.

Drums have been a significant part of Native life for centuries. Some drums are handed down from family member to family member. Others are donated to a drum group.

Traditional drums are made of deer, elk, horse or buffalo hides.

The drum is more than a musical instrument to Native people. It has a life an spirit of its own. Drum groups have ceremonies to have their drum blessed and named. This strengthens the spirit of the drum. Gifts are often made to the drum. Some drums have their own sacred medicine pipes. In some traditions, the drum symbolizes the heart beat of the earth. In others, the drum beat represents the powerful medicine of thunder.

The Men’s Traditional Dance originated when war parties would re-enact battles or when hunters would re-enact tracking their prey. The regalia is subdued. It is often decorated with bead and quill work. The circular bustle of feathers represents renewal and unity. The spikes pointing upward represent a channel between the Great spirit and all things on earth. The dancers are often veterans who carry symbols of their status as warriors. The dance movements imitate the journey through life of birds and animals.

Men’s Grass Dance is also called the Omaha dance as it originated with the Omaha Tribe in the mid 1800’s. The regalia features colorful fringes representing the grass originally attached to the belts of dancers. Many dancers also wear a hair roach, a crow-belt and an eagle bone whistle. These are Tribal emblems of the Omaha.

Dancers move their head up or down keeping rhythm with the drum, nodding quickly several times to each beat. The movement of the head keeps the roach crest feathers spinning. This is a sign of a talented dancer.

Men’s Fancy Dance is quite new to the dance arena. It is thought to have originated in Oklahoma in the early 1900’s. Promoters asked dancers to beautify their dance outfits and held contests with cash prizes for the most colorful dancers.

This dance is usually performed by boys and young men. The movements are based on a traditional double-step deviating with fancy footwork, increased speed and increasingly intricate steps and body movement. Dancers follow the changing drum beat and stop when the music does with both feet on the ground.

The Women’s Fancy Dance regalia consists of a decorative knee-length cloth dress, beaded moccasins with matching leggings and a fancy shawl. The dance style is similar to men’s fancy dance, with intricate foot work and spinning motions.

The Jingle Dress Dance is perhaps the newest dance to make it to the dance arena.

There are many stories concerning the origins of this dance and the regalia. The most accepted story comes from Mille Lacs, Minnesota. In this account, a Holy Man had a dream where he was met by four women wearing jingle dresses. They showed him how to make the jingle dress, what type of song was to be used and how the dance was to be performed. The women told him the sound of the dress had the power to heal the sick.

Upon waking the Holy Man instructed the women of the village to make jingle dresses. When the dresses were complete the Holy Man instructed the drummers in the style of song they were to use and the women in how they were to dance. As the women danced the Holy Man’s granddaughter struggled to rise but was too weak. She was carried around the dance arena. The second time around she was able to walk on her own. Her strength increased as she listened to the sound of the jingles and soon she was able to dance again. She had been healed by the sound of the jingles hitting against each other.

The jingle dress and dance spread throughout Ojibwe territory to the Dakota and Lakota in the 1920’s and as far west as Montana. Women from many tribes now make and wear jingle dresses at Pow Wows.