American Indian Pow Wow's
A pow-wow (also powwow or pow wow or pau wau) is a gathering of North America's Native people. The word derives from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader".
A modern pow-wow is a specific type of event where both Native American and non-Native American people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor American Indian culture. There is sometimes a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow-wows vary in length from one day session of 5 to 6 hours to three days. Major pow-wows or pow-wows called for a special occasion can be up to one week long.
The term also has been used to describe any gathering of Native Americans of any tribe, and as such is occasionally heard in older Western movies. The word has also been used to refer to a meeting, especially a meeting of powerful people such as officers in the military. However, such use can also be viewed as disrespectful to Native culture.
Planning for a pow-wow generally begins months, perhaps even a year, in advance of the event by a group of people usually referred to as a pow-wow committee. Pow wows may be sponsored by a tribal organization, by an American Native community within an urban area, a Native American Studies program or American Native club on a college or university campus, tribe, or any other organization that can provide startup funds, insurance, and volunteer workers.
Pow Wow Committee
A pow-wow committee consists of a number of individuals who do all the planning prior to the event. If a pow-wow has a sponsor, such as a tribe, college, or organization, many or all members of the committee may come from that group. The committee is responsible to recruit and hire the head staff, publicize the pow-wow, secure a location, and recruit vendors who pay for the right to set up and sell food or merchandise at the pow-wow.
The head staff of a pow-wow are the people who run the event on the day or days it actually occurs. They are generally hired by the pow-wow committee several months in advance, as the quality of the head staff can have an impact on attendance. To be chosen as part of the head staff is an honor, showing respect for the person's skills or dedication.
The arena director is the person in charge during the pow-wow. Sometimes the arena director is referred to as the whip man, sometimes the whip man is the arena director's assistant, and many pow-wows don't have a whip man. The arena director makes sure dancers are dancing during the pow-wow and that the drum groups know what type of song to sing. If there are contests the arena director is ultimately responsible for providing judges, though he often has another assistant who is the head judge. The arena director is also responsible for organizing any ceremonies that may be required during the pow-wow, such as when an eagle feather is dropped, and others as required. One of the main duties of the arena director is to ensure that the dance arena is treated with the proper respect from visitors to the pow wow.
Master of Ceremonies
The master of ceremonies, or MC, is the voice of the pow-wow. It is his job to keep the singers, dancers, and general public informed as to what is happening. The MC sets the schedule of events, and maintains the drum rotation, or order of when each drum group gets to sing. The MC is also responsible for filling any dead air time that may occur during the pow-wow, often with jokes. The MC often runs any raffles or other contests that may happen during the pow-wow.
Host Drum and Drum Groups
Music for pow-wow dance competition and other activities is provided by a "Drum," a group of performers who play a large, specially designed drum and sing traditional songs. The number of members of a drum group may vary, but is usually at least four people, and can be far more. Some members of the drum group may wear traditional regalia and dance as well as drum, other times drummers simply wear street clothing. Drums usually rotate the duty of providing songs for the dancers, each taking a turn at the direction of the pow-wow management.
The Host Drum of the pow-wow is a drum group primarily responsible for providing music for the dancers to dance to. At an Intertribal pow-wow, two or more drums are hired to be the host drums. In some places there is a Host Northern Drum and a Host Southern Drum. Depending on the size of the pow-wow and the region where it is held, there may be many drums, representing nearly every tribe or community attending the pow-wow. At some pow-wows, the drums are judged on the quality of their performances, with prize money awarded to the winners.
Each drum has a Lead Singer who runs his or her drum and leads the singers while singing. Host drums are responsible for singing the songs at the beginning and end of a pow-wow session, generally a starting song, the grand entry song, a flag song, and a veterans or victory song to start the pow-wow, and a flag song, retreat song and closing song to end the pow-wow. Additionally, if a pow-wow has gourd dancing, the Southern Host Drum is often the drum that sings all the gourd songs, though another drum can perform them. The host drums are often called upon to sing special songs during the pow-wow.
The head dancers consist of the Head Man Dancer and the Head Woman Dancer, and often Head Teen Dancers, Head Little Boy and Girl Dancers, Head Golden Age Dancers, and a Head Gourd Dancer if the pow-wow has a Gourd Dance. The head dancers lead the other dancers in the grand entry or parade of dancers that opens a pow-wow. In many cases, the head dancers are also responsible for leading the dancers during songs, and often dancers will not enter the arena unless the head dancers are already out dancing.