Attending a powwow gives spectators the opportunity to glance into the history of Native Americans, a glimpse of a centuries-old tradition and a chance to gaze upon the beauty of their regalia while listening to the rhythmic beat of their drums and their voices lifted in song.
Everyone is welcome to attend the powwow at the Medicine Lodge city park. Seating that is set up around the area where the dancing is to take place is for the dancers, not the spectators, so bring your own lawn chairs. It is good to ask before taking a picture out of respect for those who may have religious reasons for avoiding photos. No one should ever enter the dance arena unless invited. Do not touch the clothing of any dancer. A good rule of thumb is to wait for the reaction of the Native onlookers. If they clap, then everyone claps. Most of the time the emcee will tell the audience what is going on and what to do.
Food vendors will also be on-site providing the always popular Indian tacos and fry bread. There will be craft vendors selling a wide selection of Native items including shirts, jewelry, wooden crafts, rugs, wall decorations and Native items for children.
About the powwow
Dances and the ceremonies with which they are associated played an integral part in the lifestyle of the Native American. A dance was held to ask for aid from the gods before a battle or a hunt. A dance was also held to celebrate joy or to mark a mourning. Dances, or powwows as they are now called, are still important occasions for the American Indian. It is an occasion for making new friends and enjoying old friendships. There are not many activities where a great-grandparent and great-grandchild may participate in the same activity as they may at a powwow.
The word powwow is derived from the Algonquian term pau-wau, or pauau, which referred to a gathering of medicine men or spiritual leaders. European explorers who observed these gatherings pronounced the word wrong and passed on the wrong pronunciation to the Indians when they began learning English.
The history of powwows is sketchy as there was a period of time when the gatherings were illegal under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The modern-day powwow gives Native Americans an occasion to meet, dance, sing, socialize, honor their Native American culture and share their traditions with non-Indians.
Planning a powwow can take months. If a powwow or celebration is publicized, it is open to the public. Sometimes, it may be open to the public but there is a charge. In that case, it becomes more of an exhibition display.
The Gourd Dance, which is performed at many powwows, originated in the 1800s among the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa and Comanche tribes. The Gourd Clan, formerly a warriors’ society, now may include any member of the tribe. The members of the different gourd clans and clubs can be veterans themselves or are representatives of veterans. The red on the blanket which is worn by the dancers represents the blood which was shed by warriors and the blue on the blanket represents victory.
The Snake Dance is rich in symbolism. It was thought that because the snake lived so close to the ground he understood the problems of the soil and its need for water. The Indians performed the dance to the snake so he might take a message to the gods to send rain to the plants. The dances portray the snake coiling, striking, retreating and returning to strike again.
Other dances include the Round Dance, Buffalo Dance, War Dance and the Flag Dance, a dance that nearly every Indian tribe has composed in recent years to honor the men and women who have served in all branches of the armed forces during the various wars. This song is the Indian equivalent of the national anthem, and all should stand when this song is sung.