- from Native America
All is quiet. A single drum beats.
One strong, high voice joins the drum. Then other singers add their voices. One by one, to the beat of the music, the dancers enter the circular arbor, or dance area. Men come first, then women, and finally young people with toddlers. Soon the dance arbor holds a swirling spiral of colorful feathers and fringes, jingling ankle bells, and tinkling dresses. This is the Grand Entry, the opening ceremony of a powwow.
The word powwow comes from an Algonquian language. It means “spiritual healer,” or “medicine man.” Healers often sang to the beat of a drum or a rattle during their ceremonies. So English settlers thought the word referred to the event, not the person. In English, powwow came to mean a meeting of important people. In the late nineteenth century, Native Americans took back the word and held powwows. These heritage celebrations were based around traditional dances.
At powwows, dancers compete in various categories. These include grass dances, jingle dances, and fancy dances. Today’s powwows are more than just dance contests. They’re also a reunion of family and friends—and they’re all fun.