Powwow

By Clyde Ellis; Luke Eric Lassiter et al. | Go to book overview

CLYDE ELLIS AND LUKE ERIC LASSITER


Introduction

Every weekend of the year Indian people gather in one place or another to share their dances and songs, renew friendships, and reaffirm their shared experiences as members of a tribe, organization, family, or community. Whether in large metropolitan arenas, university gymnasiums, small community buildings, or isolated rural dance grounds, the powwow has become a way for Indian people to remember their past, celebrate the present, and prepare for the future.

For some participants the lure of big money, huge crowds, and nonstop excitement at powwows like the Gathering of Nations, Red Earth, or Schemitzun keeps them coming back year after year. For others, smaller annual community dances – especially in the summer months – offer the chance for reunions of all sorts. Sometimes dances are held to raise money for a local Indian club’s activities; other times it’s to help those who need medical care. Sometimes a dance commemorates a significant event or person, and sometimes it offers thanks for a safe trip from far away. “Why do we dance?” pondered the late Derek Lowry, a North Carolina Tuscarora. “Well, how many reasons you got? Sometime it’s for ceremony. Sometimes it’s because I want to put on my getup and shake a leg. And sometimes it’s because I want to remember my friends and family. And sometimes it’s just because. You don’t always need a reason, do you?”1

As the essays in this volume suggest, Indian people from all walks of life, from all kinds of communities, with all kinds of interests, see the powwow as a source of renewal, joy, strength, and pride. For them the powwow has become a singularly important cultural icon in their lives. Anchored in deeply respected traditions but clearly modified over the years by the shifting tides of identity and belief that have appeared in every Indian community, the powwow has become a dynamic source of expression.

But if powwows share common characteristics throughout Indian country – for example, most powwows have a Grand Entry, most begin and end with prayers and memorial songs, and Fancy dancers in Oklahoma look a lot like Fancy dancers in California – powwow culture exists in Native American com-

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