Pow wows are full of joy and pageantry. Dance, food, crafts, socializing
and even politics are always there at our gatherings.
Pow wows come in all sizes and shapes. The Intertribal Indian Club of
Tulsa, Okla. hosts what is, for them, a record pow wow of 30,000 people.
The Red Earth competition in Oklahoma attracts huge crowds as well, not to
mention Crow Fair. In the East, Schemitzun in Connecticut hosts thousands
from over many states and Canada. Those are just a few of the big ones.
Many in New England and elsewhere are small, intimate get-togethers. Our
small New England pow wows grew fast in the 1980s. One in particular, held
on the Connecticut River in Haddam, Conn., drew larger and larger crowds
each year. On one rainy weekend, 20,000 people were at the gates.
Some pow wows invite the public, some do not. Some of us work and prepare
all year for many pow wows or for just one. The anticipation adds to the
There are differences between Eastern and Western pow wows. One thread that
is always there is the drum - the heartbeat of our Mother, the Earth, and
of our ancestors. It is so strong among our more than 500 nations that it
may even be called our anthem.
When I first started going regularly in the early 1980s in New England,
renewal and pride in one's heritage was just beginning to peak and spark in
wonderful ways. The old feelings of discrimination and segregation were
beginning to peel away. Film and literature joined with other art forms to
bring Native America into an ever-widening circle of enlightenment: big pow
wow, bigger circle. To go to a pow wow was much like visiting a small,
welcoming "traveling village" where your family and friends were sure to
We all have favorite pow wow stories, memories and anecdotes that will
always be part of who we are as individuals and as a people. I thought some
of these memories would be fun to share:
"After hours at a pow wow, a group of us women went to sit and listen to an
elder who was known for her stories and quips. She enjoyed the attention -
you could tell - and it was as though she were holding court. It was fun:
we all laughed and laughed at her jokes and anecdotes.
"The hour was late, so she said, 'You must excuse me, ladies, I have to go
do my toilet-ties.' We thought that word was so funny that we used
'toiletties' for years after amongst ourselves, cracking up every time.
"Once while loading up my heavy cooking equipment and craft table items,
some good strong Navajo guys came by and offered to help me and my daughter
load our car. They kept telling us the funniest jokes and laughing at
themselves. One I remember the most was, "Hey, how do you say 'rabbit' in
Navajo?" Don't know, we said. They said in unison, "DINNER!"
- Dale Carson, Abenaki
"A long time ago when pow wows started here, there was no competition.
Vendors, dancers and camping visitors used to sit around the campfire until
the wee hours. We would share stories, tease one another and drink coffee
by the bucket. Now, people come in RVs and as soon as their work is done,
everyone goes inside to watch TV!
Instead of night sounds, there are generators. Instead of socializing,
there is seclusion. The only real time of socialization is at Saturday pot
luck. That is too brief a time to get to know people the way we used to.
Times have changed."
- Jeanne Lincoln Kent, Abenaki
"At Matos Pow Wow a few years back, a large group of us were camping near
the river. A truck made a wide circle and pulled toward the center of the
field. A man got out and informed his wife he is going to find a tree.
"Was a beautiful full moon night and the river bounced it right back, but
it must have blinded the man as he walked through the few trees and right
over the bank. Next thing we heard was 'Ah s___ it's a river!' We laughed
all night about that and never did find out who he was. We still talk about
it around the campfires."
(This was six years ago in West Lebanon, Maine.)
- Awabejiwani, Penobscot
"At the last pow wow that the Connecticut River Powwow Society held in
Glastonbury, Conn., we were short on activities. I came up with the Pequot
Rock Throwing Contest for entertainment, as we used to settle differences
by throwing rocks at each other.
I placed a small rock on top of a larger rock about 30 feet away. I held
another rock in my hand as I introduced the event to the public and
Indians. I turned around and threw the rock at the two I had set up and
knocked the top rock off first try. All the 'Skins' lined up and we all
tried for about a half hour to do it again. It was pretty funny. Then I
finally did it again to win the event."
(It should be noted that Ray Geer is quite a marksman: he won a bronze
medal in a rifle shoot competition in 2002 at the Indigenous Games in
- Raymond A. Geer, Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation
"When I first came East, the people danced counterclockwise and I was the
only one dancing clockwise ... now they all dance clockwise. Another time,
my wife had given me a present of a buffalo headpiece. It was heavy and I
was late getting to grand entry, so I had to come in last behind the kids.
They said I looked like a big buffalo following the people as they moved
on. Guess this makes me the first 'tail dancer.'"
- Wendell Deer With Horns, Lakota Cheyenne River, Two Kettle Band
"In the early '90s, my friend and I were driving back to Connecticut from
the Mashpee Pow Wow on Cape Cod. There was a terrible storm and we nearly
went off the road a couple of times because the headlights failed to work.
We were about 60 miles from home so we pulled into a place that looked like
the 'Bates Motel' with weird people running it. We had no choice but to
stay. We were both afraid to go to sleep."
- Name withheld by request