WHAT IS A POW-WOW?
For many First Nations people, pow-wows are important because they give them a chance to share their cultures and traditions, to renew with old friends and make new ones. Pow-wows are held mostly in the summer months, in about every province in Canada and every state in the United States.
THE GRAND ENTRY
During this opening dance, the flag bearers enter first. They are often war veterans and they carry the flags of the country. The chiefs, Elders and tribal leaders come second. Then the dancers enter the arena – the men first, followed by the women and, finally, the children. Because of the sacred character of this dance, spectators are asked not to take pictures during the Grand Entry.
The drum is the heart of the pow-wow, the beat that all dancers move to. Some people say that the drum makes the sound of a heartbeat. It represents the heartbeat of our Mother-Earth that all dancers honour in every dance.
The Men’s Traditional is one of the oldest dances in pow-wows. Each dancer portrays the warrior in him. It is a very important spiritual dance; it tells hunting and war stories about the dancers’ ancestors.
MEN’S GRASS DANCE
Some people believe that the beginnings of the Grass Dance were when scouts would dance on fields of grass to flatten a place where they could set up camp. Today, the Grass Dance involves dancers stomping their feet in a way that looks like they are flattening out the grass on the field.
MEN’S FANCY DANCE
This dance was created in 1920s in Oklahoma as a form of entertainment for people visiting Aboriginal reservations. Today, it is one of the flashiest and most colourful of the pow-wow dances. It is usually performed by younger men as they must be in excellent physical condition because they are constantly jumping, twirling and performing fancy footwork. The dancers wear elaborate and colourful regalia.
Throughout this noble dance, the dancers move in a slow and sedate walk, their feet always in contact with the ground, demonstrating a graceful and sacred connection with Mother Earth.
WOMEN’S FANCY SHAWL DANCE
In the 50s, women were not allowed to dance in the dance circle. It was only after a woman disguised as a man entered the dance circle that women obtained the right to perform in the dance circle. Originally, they danced wearing their blanket but, gradually, they added long ribbons and embroidery. The dance involves kicks, spins and fast movement while the dancer holds the end of her shawl out so that it looks like she has butterfly wings.
WOMEN’S JINGLE DRESS
According to an old legend, Maggie White, of Ojibwe country, fell very sick. As she was dying, and nobody knew how to cure her, her grandfather had a dream about a girl wearing a jingle dress. He told the elderly women of the village about his dream. They decided to make a dress and decorate it with the lids of snuff cans moulded into triangular shapes. The first day that Maggie wore the dress, she was able to sit up in her bed, the next one, she could walk and the third day, she could dance and had completely recovered. Nowadays, dancers are sometimes asked to dance to help heal sick people.
Today, jingle dresses must be made by hand over a period of one year. One jingle must be installed each day. A pouch with a little tobacco must be inserted in the jingle. At the end of the year, there will be 365 jingles on the dress. The jingle dress is a medicine dress. The dancer sends 365 prayers to the Creator during her dance.