Pow Wow


I’ve just returned from my first ever pow wow, the 17th annual Bay Mills Honoring Our Veterans Pow Wow to be specific. My photos are here. For those unaware, a pow wow is basically a drum and dance competition within the community — and sometimes competitors come from neighboring reservations and tribes. The dancers are judged both on their skills as a dancer and on their regalia, most of which was breathtaking. I can’t even begin to imagine the number of hours spent on the bead work alone!
We showed up for the start on Friday and I was a little let down by the casualness of what I saw. But it turns out, Friday was just the hand drum competition and the just-for-fun two-step “competition.” The Grand Entry (which I took pictures of before I learned it was sacred — they’ve been deleted) didn’t take place until Saturday afternoon. The remainder of Saturday and Sunday was filled with impressive competition dancing and intertribals.
Dancers are categorized by gender, age group (juniors, teens, adult, and golden agers), and style of dance. Men’s dancing, which is for the most part flashier than women’s dancing, has three styles: traditional, grass, and fancy. Fancy, as the name suggests, is the most intricate of the three, both in dance steps and regalia, and seemed to be the crowd favorite. By comparison, women’s traditional is much more controlled — the movement is minimal and the focus is on positioning. Each little movement has deep healing significance. Women’s jingle, as it sounds, is the noisiest of the women’s dances. The regalia for these dances are covered in little metal cones which “jingle” as they dance. However, I preferred women’s fancy shawl dancing, which has the most elaborate quilting of any of the women’s costumes.
In between the competition dance rounds were the intertribal dances. During these dances, which were open to anyone, each of the five drum groups were judged. The singing drum groups consist of around six men who all beat the same drum while singing. The students in my class told me that women are not allowed to beat the main drum, though they can play the hand drums and sing. Indeed, two of the five groups had a woman singer who stood behind the drummer and joined in the choruses — and they were the groups who took first and second in the competition.
Beyond the competition part of the pow wow were vendors selling their wares and food — mmm, fry bread and wild rice soup. The whole thing had an air of any other small town celebration that I’ve been to. Little kids ran around, high school students hung in the back seeming too cool for it all (but not too cool to skip it entirely), and parents and grandparents beamed with pride when it came their kid’s turn to compete. With the exception of the rainstorm that blew threw in the middle of Saturday, the weather was gorgeous. It was a great way to spend a weekend.


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