Tradition and Etiquette
A pow wow is a celebration, a social gathering, a friendly dance competition. There are sacred traditions to be found in this coming together of people. As the circle represents the unity of life, so the circle of the dance arena represents a joining together around the music of drum and singers. Everyone is welcome at most pow wows – non-Indians too.
- When the colors (U.S. and tribal flags) are presented, and/or dancers parade into the arena for the Grand Entry, everyone stands, and hats are removed in respect.
- Most pow wows begin and end with a prayer. Some also have an opening (calling) and a closing song. The master of ceremonies will announce when the audience should stand for the singing of a special song.
- The dance competitions require concentration. Photos may be taken, but don’t use flash during dance competitions. Also, ask permission before snapping an individual’s picture between dances, for this is private time.
- Videotaping is often discouraged. If in doubt, ask the arena director. Never stand within the arena area to take pictures without specific permission.
- The benches encircling the arena, often covered with blankets, are for dancers in regalia only, not for the general public.
- Don’t touch any outfits. Ornaments have special personal or spiritual meaning, and many of the handmade outfits, which can cost thousands of dollars, are cherished family heirlooms made by respected family members.
- Feel free to join in the intertribal dances, on the invitation of the master of ceremonies. It is customary, whenever possible, for women to wear shawls when they dance. (Often, a non-dancer will graciously lend you her shawl for a dance or two.)
- Unless they are dancing, please keep your children from running or wandering into the arena when a pow wow is in progress.
Photograph by Zac Robertson