This summer I had the opportunity to attend a pow wow in Warner, New Hampshire. I am not an indigenous person and the goal of this post is to educate myself and others on what a pow wow is, what I observed at the pow wow I attended, and some realizations I had as a result of attending.
The term “pow wow” was made by the Algonquin tribes of New England. It is described as a gathering of one or more tribes to have discussions, celebrations, and to make decisions. It is also a way to use traditions and dance as a form of expression and connection to the earth.
The goal of a pow wow is to celebrate the indigenous culture and connect and uplift the community.
Pow wows are cultural and social gatherings with lots of music and performances. Skilled artisans usually attend pow wows to sell their handmade products like jewelry, clothing, drums, dreamcatchers, and more.
The pow wow I attended was an annual gathering of multiple tribes based in New England. There were different tribes present from all over the region.
We paid for admission which also included entry into the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum. There were many tents set up with food and vendors. In the center of the circle of tents, there was a designated ceremony and dance area that members of the tribes used to showcase their dances and beautiful indigenous regalia.
During most dances, you are allowed to record video of the experience. The atmosphere was extremely joyful, friendly, and welcoming. Everyone was proud to showcase their heritage and connect with other tribes and see old friends.
There was lots of drumming which was the primary source of music. The drummers sat in a small circle under the tent. For most songs, they sang and drummed at the same time. Their talent and passion for what they were doing was palpable. They were connected to each other, their roots, and to the earth.
One of the dances was a sacred ritual to honor loved ones who are no longer on this earth. In 2022, my family lost a dear friend to a drug overdose, and it has been extremely difficult to deal with. We entered the dance circle for this ceremony and it was very emotional, but also cathartic.
When you enter an indigenous dance or ritual circle, it is customary to enter at a specific part of the circle, to dance all around the circle, and to exit at the same place that you entered in order to complete the full circle.
During these types of dances, it is forbidden to record or take pictures. There is usually an MC or host that will explicitly say this using a microphone, so you don’t have to figure things out on your own. If you are ever unsure, observe what others are doing and/or ask for permission.
Upon entering the pow wow, I felt a surge of overwhelming emotion and I stared to cry. The dances were so moving, the drums were so powerful, and the people were so connected to their heritage and traditions.
Indigenous people of any country are tribal and often nomadic in nature. Most of the things they use are made from the earth and there is a deep value and respect to nature and the resources it provides.
Many indigenous groups follow the seasons, astrology, and signs from the earth in order to inform them where to live, how to perform rituals, and what to take from the earth vs. what they should leave alone.
When Europeans invaded the Americas, there was a mass genocide of indigenous peoples all over the continent. The European invaders used indigenous people to teach them how to eat from the earth and about the landscapes.
Instead of thanking them and inviting them to work together, they tricked them, slaughtered them, and stripped them of all of their rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, this is still happening today.
During this invasion is when the human disconnect started. We are so severed from our original purpose on this earth that many times people from “developed” nations see indigenous peoples, their tribes, and their cultural practices as uncivilized and strange.
However, these cultural practices come from people who respect, trust, and value the earth and actually understand the relationship between humans and nature. At a certain point, our society decided that these practices were undesirable.
Due to mass indigenous genocides, many of these traditions have diminished significantly or even disappeared all together. The thing that struck me at the pow wow I attended was that despite all of the oppression, enslavement, and murder, somehow these traditions still live on.
The remaining indigenous people have been able to maintain oral traditions and pass down these rituals and practices to the younger generations in order to keep them lalive.
Imagine if these genocides never happened. If these traditions were never threatened and if the relationship between humans and the earth continued to be at the center of our cultural practices.
We would not have global warming, there would be less discrimination and racism, people would be healthier, and nature would not be threatened. We would be more peaceful and aware of our impact on the earth.
It is all of our responsibilities to educate ourselves on the indigenous peoples that originally inhabited our states and neighborhoods. There is so much left over culture like names of cities, rivers, streets, and more. It is up to us to learn about indigenous culture so that we can help protect it.
Attending pow wows also helps you financially contribute as well as be able to experience the culture in a tangible way.