Powwow

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

DANIEL J. GELO


7.
Powwow Patter:
Indian Emcee Discourse on
Power and Identity

The Southern Plains Indian Powwow is a festival of dancing and dance contests, feasting, gift giving, camping, and other social activities derived from the old Plains Indian Grass Dance ceremonial complex. Modern powwows may be huge urban affairs, such as the annual Red Earth celebration held at the Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City, but more typical are the smaller gatherings in rural areas that are hosted by a family or men’s club from within a single tribe. Whether large or small powwows attract participants from different Indian cultural groups. In all cases today the event is an amalgamation of traditions that have blended over many decades, if not centuries. Pan-Indian is the old term proposed by anthropologists for the resultant culture, though today it is usually called “intertribal” by powwow participants. The most accurate terminology would be processual, recognizing a dynamic among tribal, intertribal, and non-Indian influences.1

An ongoing dialectic exists between the tribal and intertribal spheres such that innovations in song, dance, regalia, and ancillary activities enter the intertribal sphere from distinct tribal practice while the intertribal setting stimulates the reinvention of explicitly tribal customs. This dialectic proceeds within a larger non-Indian environment. Thus it is possible to talk about a coherent contemporary powwow culture, one that bears explaining with reference to the cultures of various Indian groups as well as non-Indians. This study relies on tapes and observations made between 1982 and 1997, primarily among the Comanches in Oklahoma but also among their neighbors the Kiowas, the Kiowa-Apaches, and the Pawnees; the Alabama-Coushattas of East Texas; and mixed urban Indian populations in Oklahoma City and Dallas.2

Copyright © 1999 by the American Folklore Society. Reprinted by permission from the Journal of American Folklore, volume 112, number 443.

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