What is a Pow-Wow? Originally a Pow-Wow or “celebration” as it was once called, was held in the spring to welcome the beginnings of life. It was a time for people to get together, sing, dance, renew old friendships and make new ones, and a time for young people to meet and court.
The Pow-Wow had religious significance as well; it was a time for families to hold naming and honoring ceremonies. The celebration was also a prayer to the one called Wakan Tanka – the Great Mystery or Great Spirit in Lakota. Some trace the word “Pow-Wow” to the Algonquin language and say that the Europeans adopted it to refer to a council or meeting.
The circle is an important symbol to Indian cultures. At a Pow-Wow, the dancers are in the center of the circle and the audience forms a larger circle around them. The Pow-Wow brings the circle of the people closer together to their community and their culture. Pow-Wows today are still very much apart of the lives of modern Indian people.
Most religious ceremonies are no longer a central part of the Pow-Wow and often are conducted in the privacy of a family gathering. However, blessing ceremonies, honoring ceremonies and ceremonies for dropped eagle feathers remain today. Competitive singing and dancing for prize money is a fairly recent change in the traditional Pow-Wow celebration. Only registered contestants can participate in the dancing contests, but everyone can take part when an “intertribal” dance is announced – visitors included, as each of us shares a place in the circle. There are no spectators at a Pow-Wow, everyone is a participant!