Intertribal Dance and Cross Cultural Communication: Traditional Powwows in Ohio

Article excerpt

Powwows such as those in the central Ohio area offer opportunity to explore a complex set of interand intracultural communication. American Indian efforts to increase common understanding of contemporary Native America, powwow stresses American Indian commonalities in relation to mainstream American culture. In the context of the American Indian community they stress tribal individuality and they value intertribal negotiation rather than pan-ethnic conglomeration or assimilation.

It is Sunday afternoon, and the skies are bright and clear under a warming sun. The weekend's dancing has worn slick the grass in the outdoor arena, flattening it into a clockwise circle. "Intertribal Dance. Everybody dance? crackles the voice of the powwow's emcee over an antiquated PA system. The Head Man and Head Woman dancer enter the arena from the east, with a nod to the arena director. More and more dancers follow until the arena is a mass of swirling color. Men and women traditional dancers step with dignity while Fancy Dancers execute impossibly intricate and lightning fast footwork. Children barely old enough to stand dance holding their mothers' hands while younger ones snuggle in mothers' arms. Amid the confident dancers and varied American Indian dance outfits are a number of dancers in street clothes, powwow visitors who have been moved by the heartbeat rhythm of the drums and have answered the invitation to dance in unity. The Arena Director watches them emulate the Head Man and Head Woman dancer; he is always pleased when the code of respect, spirituality, and community around which the contemporary American Indian powwow is centered is honored.

POWWOW AS CULTURAL COMMUNICATION

Powwows are American Indian(1) celebrations of community and spirituality, featuring American Indian drum and dance as well as vendors offering American Indian foods, craft items and various other materials. Powwows in Central Ohio, like most powwows across North America which are open to the public, are an important venue for intercultural relations. At powwows, especially in the Central Ohio area where Indians are intensely engaged in renegotiating their relationship to the nonIndian society, a sense of unified Indian community is, out of political necessity, constructed. However, there is often quite a range of organizational, tribal and individual difference involved. As one locus of this negotiation, powwow is an amazingly complex and successful working model of intracultural and intercultural communication. In an effort to increase common understanding of contemporary Native America, powwow stresses American Indian commonalities in relation to mainstream American culture while also stressing tribal individuality within the American Indian community. Culturally knowledgeable participants value intertribal negotiation rather than pan-ethnic conglomeration or assimilation.

Powwows are an important bridge between American Indians and non-Indians, although many problems and conflicts must be confronted in order to create and maintain this cultural bridge. Powwows are a very complex form of communication on many levels--from the personal to the political--both among American Indian nations and between "Native America" and mainstream America. Following the discussion of methodological framework and a brief descriptive overview, two main sections discuss powwow in relation to intertribal negotiation and to intercultural communication. The intertribal negotiation section concentrates on symbolic patterns that enact the spiritual, reinforcing and creating a sense of community, continuity and unity. The section includes discussion of the changing demographics and of respecting intertribal differences-inescapable realities of contemporary American Indian life. The intercultural communication section concentrates on ways powwows create an intricate code of cross cultural respect and strategies that facilitate crosscultural understanding. …

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