By John Marcus
Mohawk, Chippewa, Pueblo
Like a lot of things, a pow wow is going to be different to everyone. According to Wikipedia “A pow wow (also powwow or pow-wow) is a social gathering held by many different Native American communities.” Their article, at least as of this current time, is pretty decent in its description. Check it out if you want to read more about the technical aspects of a pow wow: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pow_wow
On a more personal note though, I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s dancing at pow wows. My Dad used to tell me about the time when I was less than 5 years old and my family was at a pow wow in Tama, Iowa. We were probably on the way to Taos, New Mexico, where my Dad was born and raised. He said he was doing the pipe dance which involves 2 male dancers, each with a pipe and rattle. The song has several stops in it. My dad said he was out there and the crowd was really applauding at the stops and he thought he was doing really good but then he realized I had went out to dance too and the crowd couldn’t believe this little guy was stopping on time. I had the advantage though of hearing those songs in our family house, sitting on my dad’s knee while he would sing those songs and more.
Dancing was something that was in my blood. My dad grew up with ceremonial dancing and intertribal dancing as part of his life. While still living at home, he even traveled some to dance with his dad, Ben Marcus, and other relatives.
In this picture my dad is on the left. His dad is on the right. He told me of the time they left Taos Pueblo, New Mexico to dance in Texas, probably in the 1940’s and they were sitting in a restaurant waiting to eat and they just kept waiting until finally an employee of that restaurant, who was a minority, approached them and asked them to come outside where he explained it was pointless to stay there because they wouldn’t get served since they were non-whites. After that he said they never went back to dance in Texas.
Times have changed but one of the more important things about pow wows that hasn’t changed is we always have blessings or prayers to begin our pow wows. Here in metro Detroit during the 1970’s, John Shano would be asked to do the honor of spiritually cleansing the circle. He would be wearing a horse tail as part of his regalia as he used a huge turtle rattle dancing from the center of the circle to each of the 4 directions.
At pow wows throughout Michigan Chief Little Elk of Mt. Pleasant would be asked to help begin our gatherings. At the appropriate time he would be announced and he would bring a 2 sided hand drum with him. He would share words and a song. He was one of the oldest people I would see participating as I went to these various gatherings throughout Michigan and Southern Ontario. At the time I didn’t know what it was but it felt good see to this elder slowing making his way up towards the microphone. I don’t remember anyone telling me I had to respect this man but I could see that is what you do because that was how he was being treated. Like they say, children learn by what they see modeled around them.
It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve danced, like in this picture from around 1980, and I can now relate with what I used to hear all the time as a dancer: dance for those that can’t be here or can no longer dance.
These songs and dances came from the spirit world and speak to our spirit. When you are dancing it is part of the cycle of all things natural. The creator gave us these ways to be in rhythm together. What you are seeing in that circle is all things in harmony: the animals (dancer regalia), the humans, the spirits and of course mother earth, the giver of all life.
I hope you have the opportunity to stop by our AIHFS annual pow wow and health fair and join us in this harmony of life. It will be, Saturday, August 27, from noon until 5pm at Romanowski Park which is around the corner from us here at AIHFS. For more info here is the facebook event for it https://www.facebook.com/events/266306410403149/