- from Native America
All is hushed. 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 (dance area)—men first, then women, and finally young people with toddlers. Soon the arbor contains a swirling spiral of colorful feathers and fringes, jingling ankle bells, and tinkling dresses. This is called the Grand Entry, and it’s the opening ceremony of a powwow.
In an Algonquian language, the word powwow refers to a 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 persons. In the late nineteenth century, Native Americans reclaimed the word and held powwows. These celebrations of their heritage centered around traditional dances.
Today’s powwows are part dance contest, part reunion of family and friends, and all fun. Dancers compete in various categories. These include grass dances, jingle dances, and fancy dances.