Cherokee Morning Song

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Attend a Powwow

Gaining a little insight of what to do, and what not to do, may be helpful before attending your first powwow.  

The do's and don'ts that I will be sharing are from my own experiences. Please keep in mind, what I am selecting to share within this site, comes from my attending and dancing at northern Minnesota powwows.

Also realize that each powwow has their own way of conducting a powwow, there may be varying traditions, ceremonies and ways showing of respect.  My focus will be on the basic ways of showing respect while attending a powwow. 

Respect for the Anishinaabe

No one is told what is proper and what is not proper at a powwow. A person generally learns what is expected from them while at a powwow with their family, and by teachings from our elders. 

There is a strong belief that what a person needs to know will come to them when they need to know it. It is best to not ask too many questions. People who are attending a powwow for the first time may want some helpful hints.

Entering a Powwow

As you drive up to the powwow, park your car anywhere - as you will notice people do park anywhere their car will fit. Next, you will need to find a comfortable place to park yourself. 

There are usually bleachers circling the dancing arena for the people who are just there to watch. You may bring a lawn chair with you to sit on, but please do not park your chair in front of any dancer's chairs. 

The dancers need easy access into the arena for dancing. Ok, you are almost ready to sit back, relax, and totally enjoy the experience of community, spirituality, and fun, however a few items of respect are required and need mentioning.

Grand Entry

Grand Entries are at a 1:00 and 7:00. These times are the scheduled time at every powwow. Grand entries are when the dancers to make their entry into the sacred circle,the dancing arena. A spectators must stand once the drum begins, remove hats, and remain standing until all dancers are in the arena. 

After the grand entry, spectators should remain standing for the Flag Song, Veteran's Song, and the spiritual advisor has spoken the prayer. Once all the above is completed, then it is alright to sit down.

Honor Songs

It is good to keep in mind Honor Songs are done throughout the powwow. The emcee will announce the type of honor song and inform everyone to stand and remove their hats, these are showing respect.


When the emcee announces it is inter-tribal time, everyone is welcomed to come and join in the dancing. A person does not need to be in regalia to dance.


We welcome anyone into the circle when it is inter-tribal time. Do not be afraid to enter the circle and dance. No one will laugh at you. We are taught to be respectful to all who enter the sacred circle and wish to dance. Just walk out into the circle, watch how the dancers are dancing and do you best to have a good time. 


Pay Attention and Listen. The MC (master of ceremonies) can be heard via the sound system. He is coordinating the powwow and advises the visitors of additional protocol. Non-natives are welcome at powwow celebrations to learn and share in the cultural and social traditions but are expected to show respect and understanding for these events.

Never Refer To A Native Dancer's Regalia As a Costume

A dancer's regalia may also be called their outfit. These beautifully handcrafted outfits are not costumes! Much thought, time, energy and expense goes into the making of each outfit. Often pieces of the regalia are family heirlooms. Regalia is created by the dancer or by a respected family member or friend. The feathers in particular are sacred and highly valued and cared for. Sometimes years have gone into the final completion of a dancer's regalia.

Never pick up a feather or feathers that have fallen off some one's regalia. You must find an elder & tell them about it.

Always show respect for the elders, dancers or anyone else who is attending.

Never go under the sacred arbour. It is reserved for the drummers, the MC & singers.

Never Touch A Native Dancer's Regalia. 

Again, respect, respect, respect! A dancer told me once he felt a tugging at his back and to his dismay, a woman had a hold of one of the eagle feathers of his traditional bustle! She kept pulling and saying she wanted one! If you feel the need to touch, always ask permission, and be gentle and considerate. 

Respect the personal space of dancers as you should for anyone else.

Use Courtesy and Respect When Photographing. 

The majority of Native powwows are public events and taking pictures of the dancers during inter-tribal or during dance competition is usually acceptable. The MC will let you know when it will be absolutely not acceptable to take photographs. However, if you want a dancer to pose for you outside the arbor, always introduce yourself and ask permission.

 If you are a professional photographer or artist and feel you may use the image in the future for a commercial project, tell the dancer. Make sure it is OK with him or her and the safest bet is to ask if they will sign a model's release. 

Even if the photos are only for your personal use and not commercial, offer to send the dancer copies. They are usually happy to give you a mailing address so that you may send them photos.

Do Not Enter The Dance Arbor After It Has Been Blessed. 

At the beginning of the powwow festivities, the Dance Arbor is blessed. Walking or running into the Arbor is prohibited. The only time guests may enter the Arbor is to participate during Inter tribal Dances, Round Dances, Blanket Dances or during an Honoring dance that the MC may announce. Don't cut across the Arbor just to get to the other side!

Stand During Grand Entry. 

The MC will announce the beginning of Grand Entry and will ask everyone to stand. The Native Eagle Staff will be brought into the dance arbor and you should remain standing during the Flag Song and the Invocation. 

The same is asked during the Veterans Songs and Closing Songs and when the Staff and Flags are taken out of the Arbor. Men should remove their hats during these times.

Do Not Sit On Any Chairs Under the Dance Arbor. 

The seating under the Dance Arbor is reserved for the dancers, drums and other powwow participants. It's a good idea to bring folding chairs to a powwow and set them up just behind the outer area of the Arbor. 

Throwing a blanket over your chair marks it as belonging to someone. Unless you've been invited to sit under the Arbor, please respect the sitting provided for participants, especially those chairs covered with a blanket or shawl!

Never Record a Native Drum Without Permission Of The Head Singer. 

Ask to tape songs. The MC may also announce that no recording or photographs take place during certain songs. Frequently people do stand around drums and tape without permission without any consequences. But its shows respect and consideration to ask permission first.

Never take pictures when the MC informs that it is not permitted.

No Alcohol Or Drugs Permitted At Powwows. Today's powwows are alcohol and drug free environments.

Any one found under the influence or in the possession of drugs will be immediately escorted off the powwow grounds.

Respect everyone, Non-Native and Native, especially Elders. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Look out for the children. Treat others as you would expect to be treated.

Finally, Have A Good Time! Above anything else, Native powwows are social events. A time to see old friends and meet new ones. 

Don't be afraid to ask questions and engage in conversation with vendors, dancers, singers and other powwow participants. Enjoy yourself!


The information above came from

This is a wonderful site that I highly recommend.


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