River’s Ruminations~ The History of Powwows through a few Anishinaabe Eyes ~

The history of Powwows is a story from every Nation. There is not one story that tells the history for each Nation has a story of their own history of Powwows. My focus with that said is with my people, the Anishinaabe, and a story of our history of Powwows. This is not the only story that tells our history. It is one viewpoint. There are many people that hold pieces of knowledge of the history of Anishinaabe Powwows. All of these pieces placed together make up the whole story. A friend of mine has been going to Powwows since he was a boy in the 1960’s. I began going to Powwows as a young adult. I have been a part of hosting them and I am a Womens Traditional dancer. In addition, I have a degree in Native American Studies. We brought our knowledge together to bring you this story of the history of Anishinaabe Powwows.

The Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, or Chippewa are one Tribe. We are the people with three names due to a French man hearing Ojibwe as Chippewa. Anishinaabe is what we call ourselves. The same name dilemma happened with the word Powwow. The word Powwow derives from the Algonquian word “A’ pauau! or “Pauwau” and means the gathering of medicine people and spiritual leaders. Early Americans would call any gathering of Native Americans a powwow. Eventually, the name stuck with Native Americans.

Traditionally, the Anishinaabe would gather together in ceremony to celebrate a successful hunt, food gathering, or warfare. It was a time of giving “thanks” and honoring Elders along with other honors like namings, coming of age rites, and adoptions. Also, ceremonies were held to renew alliances between them and other Tribes. The ceremonies involved feasting, dancing, and drumming. The hand drum was primarily used for these ceremonies until the late 19th Century. Around 1870, a Lakota woman named Tail Feather Woman had a vision a spiritual drum would bring peace between the Lakota and the Ojibwe. The Lakota presented the Ojibwe with the Big Drum along with ceremonial instructions. They have never battled again. Since then, the Big Drum has been used for ceremony but during those times Native American were not allowed to practice their beliefs. Some Reservations were stricter than others depending on the Indian Agent. People had to sneak around to hold ceremony till the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960’s.

We had our own movement called AIM, American Indian Movement, that started in Minneapolis, MN in 1968. People started to rediscover their roots of ethnicity and tribal history. They identified with being Indian and a feeling of pride grew amongst the people. It was cool to be Indian instead of feeling the shame that was forced upon people in Boarding Schools and the American society. Indian Power spread through Nations and people began to feel strong. This is the time of the birth of Powwows as we know them today.

My friend Virgil remembers these first Powwows. He attended his first Powwow with his Aunt when he was nine years old. He remembers they were small and not as organized as today. In the mid 70’s, he began learning how to sing and drum on a metal solider drum.

We finally received religious freedom in 1978 with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. This ignited a rebirth and revitalization of Native American cultures that strengthened individuals and Nations. Powwows grew and spread across the Country with the new found freedoms.

 Dancers of all regalia dance around the circle. The arbor is in the center where the Big Drums resonate the heartbeat of the Earth and the songs of the people.

Special Thanks~ Miigwech to Virgil

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Kingbird Singers in Red Lake 4th of July 2008   click

Regalia- The apparel dancers wear at a Powwow from head to toe. There are similar styles of regalia from Powwow to Powwow with each Nation having their own particular designs. Regalia is handmade and often passed down to newer generations.

For further reading about Powwows-

A Glimpse Inside A Powwow: Caution Entering Indian Country ~ part II-A 

There are six pieces in all. 🙂


7 thoughts on “River’s Ruminations~ The History of Powwows through a few Anishinaabe Eyes ~

  1. Very interesting post River. I am so glad that you guys eventually regained your religious freedom. Totally pathetic that it was taken away to begin with. May your nations/tribes go from strength to strength.

  2. Thank you Marion. The history of relations, loss of dignity and rights, forced assimilation, etc.. is down right appalling. The amount of prejudism and ridiculous Romanticism that exists today is sicking. On the flip things are getting better. It’s a story heard around the world about many different people. 😦

    Pow Wow season is here. I can’t wait for our adventures to dance and visit to begin.

  3. Stay strong, keep dancing and keep writing the stories of your people, River. I envy you your ancient and beautiful culture. Non-natives seem to have a (non)”culture” of materialism, which feels very empty. I so love these beautiful photos. Would love to be there in person. I worked among First Nations for eight and a half years and love the ready laughter and the beauty of their honest hearts so much. My daughter is one quarter Choctaw, so lucky.

    • Sherry non-natives have rich cultures too. I’d say the western culture(s) lean heavy of materialism but every people have at some point been a culture of an earth based spirituality if thats where it seems so different. It’s just that Native American tribes are right now and others are buried under forced religion. You just have to dig. I did with my Irish ancestry.
      The humor within Indian* communities is awesome. The teasing and laughter. lol Heres a link to the piece about Pow Wows where I attempt to explain it. http://riversruminations.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/a-glimpse-inside-a-powwow-caution-entering-indian-country-part-ii-a/
      * I really don’t like to generalize the many tribes or cultures clumped together as Native Americans. I am only familiar with Ojibwe, Onida, and Lakota. But humor does seem to be a common trait many Native American people have from many different Nations. ❤

  4. I love your suggestion of hugging a tree. I have a dear friend who does a walking meditation where he mentally says “I love you” to everything he sees. “I love you” (tree), “I love you” (rock), “I love you” (dog), “I love you” (grass) – he says after a while he can feel everything start loving him back. Way cool.

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