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Indians of North America

Powwow Logo Powwow
A Collection of Photographs and Video

CSULB Powwow, April 28, 1995
Professor Troy Johnson
California State University,
Long Beach


45 Second Video Powwow Grand Entry, 45 seconds - ~9MB
The word "powwow," which we associate with the powwow celebrations, or with powwow dances, actually began as a name. The term came from the Algonkian-speaking Narragansett Indians of the Northeastern part of the country we call today the United States. The word referred, not to a dance or celebration, but refered to a shaman or teacher, a dream or vision, or a council or gathering. When the English met with Indian leaders they would "powwow together," or in Indian society one might visit a "powwow" bec ause of his or her healing powers.

20 Second Video "Grass Dancer", 20 seconds ~4MB
The powwow as we know it today and is shown in these video clips was largely influenced by the Indian people of the Great Plains in the early 1800s and had its roots in the celebrations of North American tribes long before European entrance into the western hemisphere. In those days, Indian people gathered at various times of the year to hunt, plant, gather and to celebrate. They came together to renew family, clan, and tribal ties as well as to forge social and political alliances, celebrate victories, and to practice religious and spiritual ceremony. Young Indian men and women met and courted and marriages were often agreed upon or arranged at these gatherings.

Photo #23 Initially tribal in nature these gatherings sometimes became intertribal and generally involved music and dance as an expression of cultural pride and practice. Other activities included gambling games, athletic competition, and ceremonies which brought Indian people together in harmony and celebration.

Photo #22 Powwow dances varied. Some were performed to communicate with the universe, or the powers of the universe. Others were performed with precisely prescribed steps and movements to honor the spirits of animals which possessed special powers such as the eagle or the buffalo. Some dances and songs were owned by specific societies within tribes and could be performed only by members of the society. For more in-depth information I recommend that you read "Pow-wow: The Contemporary Pan-Indian Celebration" by David Whitehourse. The book was published by San Diego State University, San Diego, Ca.

Photo #7 The powwow today has changed. While the contemporary powwow is a cultural, ritual, social, and sometimes spiritual gathering of Indian people, it knows no tribal boundaries. Songs and dances that once were sung or danced only by a specific tribe or group are now performed by Indian people from other parts of the country. Some dancers still ask permission first to borrow or perform a dance however.

Photo #4 The contemporary powwow provides an opportunity for people to celebrate their identification with Indian culture and have become pan-Indian and inter-tribal expressions of pride.

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