Sixteen Pow-Wow Rules
by Charles Phillip White (Ojibway descent)
It should be noted that every POWWOW is different so the first rule is the most important. The key is respect, and many "first timers" don't have access to the life-long teachings that we take for granted. Here are "Charley's 16 rules", hope you enjoy.
- Listen to the Master of Ceremonies.
- Do not sit within the arena. The chairs inside the arena are reserved for the dancers or signers. Use the outside circle or bleachers if provided.
- If you want to take pictures, check with the POWWOW host first, then check with the person you are taking pictures of and ASK THEIR PERMISSION. Under no circumstances may you enter the arena to take photos. Put your camera down for all memorial dances.
- All tape recording must be done with the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead (or Head) Singer of EACH drum. When a new drum starts, do not enter the arena to get to the other drum. Don't run. Miss the song and wait for the next one to take your time getting to the drum. Nothing is more rude than "Recorder-runners" ganging around a drum. Many Powwows disallow this anyway (fine by me!).
- If you are not wearing traditional Regalia, you may dance on social songs (like Two-Step, Blanket Dance, Honoring Songs, Circle, etc..) Sometimes a blanket dance is held to gather money. You may enter the circle to donate and dance.
- Only those with the permission of the Lead Singer may sit at a drum. (And it's a good idea to know the songs because it's often a habit to ask the "stranger" to lead one.)
- Stand and men must remove their hat (unless traditional head gear) during the Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Invocation, Memorial, Veterans Songs, and the Closing Song.
- During the Gourd Dancing, only Gourd Dancers and Gourd Dance Societies are to enter the Dance arena. Owning a gourd rattle does not make one a Gourd Dancer. Check with the local Societies.
- Please do not permit your children to enter the dance circle unless they are dancing.
- Do not touch anyone's dance Regalia without their permission. These clothes are not "costumes" and yes we use modern things like safety pins and such because we are a "living" culture, our Regalia is subject to change. Leave your stereotypes at home. (Yes there are some blond tribal enrolled Indians... no ones fault that life goes on!) 11) If you are asked to dance by an elder, do so. It is rude and disrespectful to say, "I don't know how." They know that you don't know how to dance so how can you learn if you turn the elders down?
- Most all Powwows do not allow Alcoholic beverages, Gold Paint cans, or drugs here. The Powwow is a time of joyful gathering and celebration of life. Alcohol and drugs are destroying our way of life and these "bad" spirits are not welcome.
- It's funny how much trash we as people drop. Make an extra effort to walk to the trash can. Respect Mother Earth.
- Remember always: Native American Indian dances are more than the word "dance" can describe. They are a ceremony and a prayer which all life encompasses and produce many emotional and spiritual reactions. Some dances are old, some are brand new... the culture continues to live and evolve. Respect what is sacred to others.
- Urban Powwows are much more "tense" than Powwows on the rez. As people are away from the comfort of culture, they tend to take things more seriously. Abide by peoples wishes and requests. We as Indian people believe differently. Some dance around clockwise, others counter clockwise. If our host asks, we sometimes voluntarily show our respect by temporarily changing our way(s). When they are in our house they do the same.
- Have fun. Buy something from the vendors. Donate if you can. And most of all don't be so uptight and relax. The whole universe comes together this day to celebrate. You are invited to join in.
Please remember, these are general rules when there is no other ground work to proceed from. Hope this helps.
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