A powwow is a celebration typically hosted by a specific tribe, organization, school, or family. It includes songs, drumming, and dancing.
In addition to the singing, drumming, and dancing, modern powwows can also include singing, drum, and dancing contests; special performances; tournaments; and arts and craft booths.
Chief Leschi PowWows
Our school sponsors a monthly powwow in most months throughout the school year to provide an opportunity for our children and community members to join us in the promotion of our Native American heritage. This is the perfect opportunity for our students to show the dance steps they have practiced. Some students participate in competition dancing; other students dance for the fun of it. Still others prefer to practice singing with drum groups or simply meet friends and watch. Many dancers and singers from local communities and nearby reservations often come to join us.
Chief Leschi community powwows are held every third Saturday of the month from October through January and again in March for the final powwow for the school year. Doors open at 5 pm for vendors, and grand entry is at 7 pm.
Vendor space is $30, and vendors must provide their own tables and chairs.
Chief Leschi Schools is a drug/alcohol/tobacco-free school. No drugs, alcohol, or firearms are permitted on the school grounds. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
There is no admission fee to the Chief Leschi powwows. Our powwows are open to everyone and the public is always welcome to attend. For more information about the Chief Leschi powwows, call (253) 445-6000.
History of the PowWow
The word "powwow" is a term that came from the Narragansett Tribe referring to a curing ceremony. They spoke an eastern Alqonquian language and were originally located in the northeastern part of the United States. When "powwow" was translated into the English language, it was thought to refer to an Indian gathering or "to confer in council."
It is believed that the origin of the powwow is from the war dance, in which warrior societies from the Kansa, Omaha, and Ponca tribes participated in special honoring ceremonies to recognize heroic war deeds or other honorable acts. While this ceremony was exclusive to men, it is recorded that in some tribes, some women were recognized as warriors and participated in battle. This gave them the right to dance in war dances. Otherwise, women participated in a supportive role by dancing at the outer edges of the dance circle. A fire was usually built and the honoring ceremony was performed nearby.
In the 1860s this ceremony spread to other tribes and was called the Omaha Dance and sometimes the Grass Dance. It was referred to the Grass Dance because the dancers wore braided strands of sweet grass in their bustles.
In 1890, another dance was introduced to tribes by a Pauite Indian named Wovoka, from Nevada. This dance was the Ghost Dance, a part of a religious movement in which the dancers believed that the Ghost Dance would bring back the buffalo and the old way of life (before the coming of the Europeans). The U.S. government had banned the performance of this dance and ordered all Indians in noncompliance to be put under arrest. On December 29, 1890, Chief Big Foot and his band were arrested and were being disarmed when a struggle ensued. This was enough for soldiers to open fire on all the Indians in captivity. Over 200 Lakota men, women, elders and children, were massacred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, because of this dance.
After this massacre, it was very difficult for Native Americans to continue their religious and social dances. For many years, Native Americans performed their dances in secret. When World War I, World War II, and the Korean War broke out, many Native American men went to war and fought for the United States of America. Upon the return of these veterans, honoring dances were performed for them. It was a proud and joyous time for the families of these warriors. Soon dances were performed more openly, and our dances and ceremonies continue to this day.
Ceremonies and Symbolism of the PowWow
Although many of the religious aspects of the ceremonies are no longer done at powwows, some traditional ceremonies are still held. One ceremony with religious significance that is still performed at powwows is the traditional “naming ceremony.” The naming ceremony is often conducted in small community halls and family gatherings, rather than at a large celebration. Another ceremony often performed today is the “dropped eagle feather ceremony.” Overall, the powwow still retains some of the ceremonial aspects of the original war dance.
As the circle has always been a very important symbol to the Native American people, the circle is evident in the structure of a powwow. For example, the shape of the drum is a circle. The drummers sit in a circle around the drum. The dancers dance in a circle in the the middle of a circle formed by the audience and drummers.
A powwow may be small, with as few as 40 participants, or very large with thousands of people. A powwow often begins on a Thursday or Friday night, with grand entry at 7 pm. Each night it ends between midnight and 3 am. During a Saturday afternoon session, grand entry begins at 1 pm, with dancing until 5 pm for supper break. Grand entry typically takes place at 7 pm, and this schedule continues throughout the powwow until it is finished.
Competitive singing and dancing for prize money is a fairly recent change to the powwow. Prize money is awarded to the dancer, singing group, or team with the most accumulated points at the end of a powwow. Dancers are given points for participating in specific contenst dances and intertribal dancing. There are various judging systems that might be used for powwows, but most use the point system.
The following are some other ways the powwow has changed in recent years:
- Women being allowed to participate in the war dancing
- Dance outfit modifications
- Dancing and drum contests
- Special dance performances
- Admission fees
- Hand game tournaments
- Softball tournaments
- Food stands
- Arts and craft booths
Although the powwow has evolved and changed, the feelings of honor, pride and self-identity still remains strong. Somewhere, at any given weekend in Indian Country in the U.S. and Canada, a powwow celebration is taking place.