What is a powwow?     

Songs and dances for religious and festive occasions have always played an important part in the Native American cultures of North America with great variations from tribe to tribe. The modern powwow dances originate from the traditional dances of the Northern and Southern Plains tribes, and over time these dances have changed and evolved and have spread to all other tribes ranging from Northern Canada to Southern USA.

A social event
A powwow is first of all a social event where Native Americans from all tribes gather to meet friends and relatives, dance, sing, honor old traditions and create new. The powwow represents a living culture where new songs, dance steps and dance styles are created – often inspired by or reviving ancient traditions - and where the powwow fashion changes from year to year. Today, the dance categories include Men's and Women's Traditional Dance that is close to the old traditions with strong tribal differences in dance and regalia. Newer dance styles with fewer tribal differences include Men's Fancy Bustle Dance, Women's Fancy Shawl Dance, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Chicken Dance, and Women's Jingle Dress Dance.

The singing and dancing is the core of a powwow, but the strengthening of internal relations between families and clans play an equally important part. Often the dancing and singing will stop as a family enters the arena to honor a certain person by requesting an honor song and by giving away a large number of gifts.

The powwow circuit
Powwows differ from place to place, depending on whether it is a large three-day contest powwow with song and dance contest and large cash prizes, or whether it is a small local community powwow that last one evening. There are also differences between powwow traditions of the Northern and Southern plains regarding dancing and singing styles and the way a powwow is structured and run, often referred to as Northern style and Southern style.

Powwows usually take place during the weekends and last from one night to three or four days. Powwows are held all year, but the main season is during the summer. Many Native Americans travel from powwow to powwow all summer and they call it "following the powwow trail" and "being part of the powwow circuit". The powwow circuit plays an important role in the lives of most Native Americans as powwows offer the opportunity to combine tradition and renewal and strengthen Native American solidarity and identity across tribal and geographical boundaries.

Powwows are open to the public, and non-Indians are welcome to come and watch. Sometimes you will see one or two non-Indians participating, but most non-Indians that have dance outfits prefer to be spectators at Native American gatherings.