Powwow

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

PATRICIA C. ALBERS AND BEATRICE MEDICINE


2.
Some Reflections on Nearly Forty Years on
the Northern Plains Powwow Circuit

Powwows, celebrations, or “doings,” as they are called in some vernaculars of reservation English, include any of a wide variety of get-togethers that focus on dancing but may also include honorings and feasts, parades and pageants, rodeos, gambling, and carnivals. The roots of Northern Plains powwows, as we know them today, are complex and multifaceted. They can be traced back to the Grass Dances and exhibition performances of the late nineteenth century (Mekeel 1932; Pettipas 1993, 107–25; Young and Gooding 2001). Until 1960 powwows were largely rural events, typically associated with reservation fairs, anniversary commemorations, and such holidays as the Fourth of July or Labor Day. As their popularity grew they became a regular, recurring summer feature of small reservation communities and the larger agency towns as well as a common event on the urban scene. Combining the old with the new, tradition with innovation, the powwow remains a dynamic event, renewing cultural identities, traditional values, and social ties important to many of today’s tribal communities in the Northern Plains.

Notwithstanding the importance of powwows in the Northern Plains over the past century, a surprising lack of writing exists on their history or contemporary expression. Several books and articles addressing Northern Plains powwows and aimed at popular audiences and tourists have appeared in recent years (Anonymous 1978; Crummet 1981; Parfit 1994; Braine 1995; Contreras and Bernstein 1996; Marra 1996; Roberts 1995, 1998; White 1996). Scholarly publications, however, remain slim. Other than Samuel Corrigan’s work (1970) on powwows among the Canadian Dakotas and George Horse Capture’s book (1989) on the powwow overall, most writings about the Northern Plains focus on specific aspects of their performance, not on their presence as a total social phenomenon. Much of what has been written deals with the feasts and giveaways that are often held in conjunction with today’s powwows (Weist 1973; Grobsmith 1979, 1981; Kehoe 1980; Schneider 1981; M. Powers 1991). Other works look at powwow song, dance, or dress (Howard 1960; W Powers 1970, 1980, 1990, 1994; Hatton 1974, 1986; M. Powers 1988; Browner

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