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Pow Wow Celebration

Pow Wow drum

Pulsating drums, multi-coloured regalia and the rhythmic steps of the dancers are the trademark of the pow-wow.  Today, these special gatherings are held by Indigenous peoples across North America.  As an inter-tribal celebration pow-wows take the form of either a competition in which dancers and drum groups compete for prizes or as a traditional pow-wow.   The traditional pow-wow is a ceremony for the purpose of honouring the Creator, Mother Earth or phases in the seasons.

The pow-wow is not however, without a history that at one time saw this rich cultural experience being strictly prohibited. The Indian Act of the mid 1800’s and its later amendments made it a criminal offense for First Nations people to engage in dances, ceremonies or gift giving practices.  It was believed that these undermined the principles and policies of assimilation.  From the potlatch to the pow-wow, many age old traditions were outlawed; extinguishing an important part of Indigenous culture.

Pow Wow Dancer
Pow Wow Dancer

Today, the pow-wow flourishes throughout North America, attracting audiences from all parts of the world.  Apart from the visual splendour of the dancers and the rhythmic beats of the drum, there is a protocol that spectators must follow in order to demonstrate respect and appreciation of this tradition.  In celebration of the spiritual and festive nature of this event, spectators are encouraged to applaud and join the dance when invited.

In keeping with the honour and respect of this time-honoured tradition, it is important that spectators refrain from,

  • Walking onto or crossing over on the dance arena or entering a dancer’s tent or set-up area,
  • Entering into the dance arena to get a better photograph of the dancers,
  • Touching a dancer’s regalia or a drummer’s drum or drumstick (unless permission is given),
  • Using the word ‘costume’ to describe what the dancers are wearing. Costumes are for ‘make-believe’ activities whereas, the appropriate term ‘regalia’ signifies authenticity,
  • Talking while an elder or veteran is speaking (generally using the microphone),
  • Picking up an eagle feather if one has fallen (contact a pow-wow volunteer).
Pow Wow Dancer
Pow Wow Dancer

Taking photographs is most welcome.  If you happen to meet a dancer outside the arena and would like a photo, it is always polite to ask.  Most dancers are pleased to pose and talk about their regalia and what the various feathers, beads, patterns and colours represent to them.

Written by Diana Barr

MOA’s Pow Wow is being held on September 19 and 20, 2015.  For more information visit

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