Aboriginal Services

Students filling offering satchels

Annual Powwow

While we were not able to meet in person this year, we are excited to have our community come together to create two videos for you to enjoy.

  1. The Virtual Powwow video – run time 34:00
  2. Powwow Etiquette with Richard Jackson Jr. – run time 39:09

Aboriginal Services would also like to take this opportunity to mention Orange Shirt Day is tomorrow, September 30, 2020. Please wear an orange shirt to acknowledge the harm residential schools have caused, the healing that is still occurring with the survivors, and to show commitment to continued reconciliation. Visit https://www.orangeshirtday.org to learn more.

A young Indigenous dancer spreads her arms in the rhythm of the moment.

12th Annual Youth Exhibition Powwow video

What is a Powwow?

Powwow time is the Native Canadian people's way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and make new ones.
 

This is a time to renew thought of the old ways and to preserve a rich heritage. There are several different stories of how the Powwow was started. Some believe that the war dance societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains tribes were the origin of the Powwow.

 

Powwow singers are very important figures in the Native Canadian culture. Without them there would be no dancing. The songs are of many varieties, from religious to war to social.

As various nations gathered together, they would share their songs, often changing the songs so singers of different nations could join. With these changes came the use of "vocables" to replace the words of the old songs. Thus, some songs today are sung in vocables with no words.

Yet they still hold special meaning to those who know the song. Many songs are still sung in native tongue either newly composed or revivals of old songs. These songs are reminders to the First Nations people of their old ways and rich heritage.

Dancers have always been a very important part of the life of Native Canadian. Most dancers seen at Pow- wows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance has not. The outfits worn by the dancers, like the styles of clothing today evolve over time, it is not a stagnant culture, but a vibrant and changing way of life.

Powwow are organized by committees that work for weeks before the event. At the Powwow, the MC runs the events. The MC works with the Arena Director to keep the Powwow organized and running smoothly. These two individuals along with the committee work hard to bring the people together to dance and fellowship together in the circle.

The Powwow begins with the Grand Entry. This is the entry of all the people entering the arena. During the Grand Entry, everyone is asked to stand as the flags are brought into the arena. The flags carried generally include the Canadian flag, tribal flags, Powwow flag, and eagle staffs of various tribes present. These are usually carried by veterans. Native Canadian hold the Canadian flag in an honored position despite the horrible treatment received from this country. The flag has a dual meaning. First it is a way to remember all of the ancestors that fought for this country. It is also the symbol of the Canada which Native Canadians are a part of. The flag here also reminds people of those people who have fought for this country.

Following the veterans are other important guests of the Powwow including tribal chiefs, Princesses, elders, and Powwow organizers. Next in line are the men dancers. The men are followed by the women dancers. Once everyone is in the arena, the song ends and a song is sung to honor the flag and the veterans. After a prayer, the dancing resumes, usually with a few Round Dances. After the Round Dances, intertribal dancing songs are sung and everyone dances to the beat of the drum.

A powwow session begins with the Grand Entry and, in most cases, a prayer. The Eagle Staff leads the Grand Entry, followed by flags, then the dancers, while one of the host drums sings an opening song. This event is sacred in nature, some pow­ wows do not allow filming or photography during this time, though others allow it. If military veterans or active duty soldiers are present, they often carry the flags and eagle staffs. They are followed by the head dancers, then the remaining dancers usually enter the arena in a specific order: Men's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy, Women's Traditional, Women's Jingle, and Women's Fancy. Teens and small children then follow in the same order. Following the Grand Entry, the MC will invite a respected member of the community to give. an invocation. The host drum that did not sing the Grand Entry song will then sing a Flag Song, followed by a Victory or Veterans' Song, during which the flags and staffs are posted at the MC's table.

Powwow terms

Master of Ceremonies

The master of ceremonies, or MC, is the voice of the powwow. It is his job to keep the singers, dancers, and general public informed as to what is happening. The MC sets the schedule of events, and maintains the drum rotation, or order of when each drum group gets to sing. The MC is also responsible for filling any dead air time that may occur during the powwow, often with jokes. The MC often runs any raffles or other contests that may happen during the powwow.

Arena Director

The arena director is the person in charge during the powwow. Sometimes the arena director is referred to as the whip man, sometimes the whip man is the arena director's assistant, and many powwows don't have a whip man. The arena director makes sure dancers are dancing during the powwow and that the drum groups know what type of song to sing. If there are contests the arena director is ultimately responsible for providing judges, though he often has another assistant who is the head judge. The arena director is also responsible for organizing any ceremonies that may be required during the powwow, such as when an eagle feather is dropped, and others as required. One of the main duties of the arena director is to ensure that the dance arena is treated with the proper respect from visitors to the powwow.

Regalia (re-GAY-lia)

Regalia in Indigenous cultures refers to the traditional and often sacred clothing, accessories and artifacts worn or carried during various ceremonies, such as powwows, celebrations, and pan-national gatherings. The design, type and meaning of regalia varies greatly depending on the individual who wears it, the culture from which it originates and the event where it is worn. Regalia can include woven textiles, jewelry, makeup, footwear, such as moccasins, and accessories, such as headbands, arm bands, breastplates, roaches, shawls, anklets, dance sticks and hackles. (Information from www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

Powwow Etiquette

Here is a little information to help you enjoy the Powwow and to let you know what you can expect, if this is your first time attending.

  • Be on time. The committee is doing everything possible to ensure that activities begin and run smoothly. Please cooperate in this regard.
  • Master of Ceremonies (MC) is the person who sets the tempo of the powwow.
  • Listen to the MC as he will announce the program activities.
  • Arena Director is the keeper of the arena circle.
  • Respect the traditions of each community. Ask the MC or Arena Director if you are uncertain of any etiquette during the powwow.
  • Whipman is the person that ensures that the grounds are respected and the dancers enter into the dance circle in their categories.
  • Grand Entry is when all the categories enter the arena circle, led by the flag and eagle staffs, veterans, dignitaries, and powwow royalty.
  • Flag song is the First Nation National Anthem - please stand and remove your hat if you don’t have an eagle feather in it to pay your respects.
  • Dancers wishing to reserve a space should place a blanket in that space before the dance begins. Please do not sit on someone else’s blanket unless invited. Any uncovered space is not reserved
  • Take your own chair, there is usually limited bench seating.
  • If taking pictures of the dancers, please ask the dancer first and remember common courtesy and ask permission. Group pictures are usually alright to take.
  • Pictures during feather pick-ups is not allowed. Or when a whistle blowing or fanning at the drum is taking place.
  • Dance as hard and long as you can in your category or in intertribal dances.
  • Be aware of the people behind you who may not be able to see over you – make room, step aside, sit or kneel.
  • No alcohol or drugs allowed.
  • Princesses and Warriors are the royalty representing their respected powwow community.
  • There will be veterans present. They are to be respected. Attendees are welcomed and encouraged to shake their hands.
  • Elders are encouraged to have the best seats where they can view the dancing. They should be taken care of, ensure they have assistance, snacks and drinks.
  • The MC table is the center head of the arena, not only because it holds a seat for the MC, but it is where the giveaways are arranged and announcements are posted. It is also where the flags and Eagle Staffs are posted and retrieved at the beginning and end of each session.
  • Thank you to Richard Jackson Jr. and Ursula R. Drynock for providing the above etiquette.

Bannock and Fry Bread

Bannock or Frybread... The staple of powwows, feasts, special family dinners and roadside stands.

While most cultures around the world have a version of fried dough - sopapillas, beignets, doughnuts...  none is so versatile as Indian frybread. Dipped in soup or berry gravy, smothered with honey butter or powdered sugar, or served as an Indian Taco - Bannock or frybread turns into a favorite of all who eat it.

Many Canadians cultures have their traditional bread, usually made from corn or acorn flour. While wheat flour is not indigenous to Native Canadians, since the ration days reservation women have used real "ingenuity" to use foreign ingredients to feed their families. Rations included flour, oil, and yeast or baking powder. The original recipe for Bannock or frybread is not recorded, and was probably created in different areas at the same time.

Recipe

Never Fail Bannock or Frybread

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ pack fast rising yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup powdered milk
  • VERY warm water (out of the tap is fine, hottest water you can still put your finger in)

Mix all dry ingredients, then pour in 1 ½ cups VERY warm water. Stir until incorporated.  At this point you'll know if you need to add more water or flour to make a good dough. It should be just slightly sticky. Knead for a minute or two. Cover and let rise for about 1 ½ hours.