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NATIVE AMERICAN POWWOW
HISTORY & DESCRIPTION-Pg 2


Grand Entry, New Year's Eve Red Road Powwow, Fresno, CA. © Becky Olvera Schultz
Grand Entry At New Year's Eve Red Road Powwow, Fresno, CA.

Copyright Becky Olvera Schultz
Content may not be duplicated without permission from Becky Olvera Schultz.
Young dancers, Red Road Powwow Celebration of Sobriety Powwow, Hollister CA. © Becky Olvera Schultz
Young dancers, Red Road Powwow, Hollister, CA.


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There is an early record from a Missoula, Montana newspaper that talks about the 1900 4th of July Powwow and in 1977 a Salish elder, Blind Mose Chouteh, stated that the first Arlee Powwow occurred three years prior to the 1901 smallpox epidemic. Current research shows that Arlee, Montana may possibly be the location of the earliest documented powwow, giving a history of this event of at least a century (Arlee 1998:5).

What exactly defines a powwow? In the broadest of terms it is a gathering. The powwow was originally a Plains celebration that spread to most other tribes (Highwater 1977:31). Having evolved from ancient rituals, the powwow is North America's oldest public festival (Hungry Wolf: 1999:5) Native Americans have celebrated the circle of life for centuries with seasonal ceremonies of feasting, dancing, singing and drumming. To Indians, the circle of life is endless, no beginning, no end. Originally powwows were planned around seasonal changes but as non-Native people interacted with the Native, customs were altered (Rendon 1996:5-7).

The early Jesuit missionaries contributed to the continuation of these celebrations by having the Indians schedule them on holy days in the Roman Catholic calendar (Arlee 1998:4).

In celebrating this circle of life, the physical structure of the powwow setting is a circle. The dance arena, known as the arbor, is a large circular area in the center of the designated location. It can be either outdoors or indoors. The arbor is blessed prior to the powwow starting and is considered sacred ground during the entire celebration and is treated with the respect given to a church (Campbell 1995:8). The entries are on the four points of the compass, but usually the dancers enter from the east entrance. The announcer's stand is usually to the west (Roberts 1992:125).

Around the outside edge of this arbor is a covered area to provide shade (if outdoors) for the drums, singers, dancers and participants. Spectators usually bring blankets or lawn chairs and sit directly behind the participants on the outer edge of the arbor. The arbor usually made of wood or tree limbs and covered with leafy brush or tree branches. Outside this dance arbor, set back at a reasonable distance, is the circle of booth vendors selling food, arts and crafts. Powwows held indoors are usually less structured due to the limitations of the facilities.

The activities at powwows can be divided into arbor and outside-the-arbor events. Intertribal, social, exhibition and contest dancing as well as drum contests, ceremonials, specials, giveaways and fundraising events can all take place in the arbor. Outside the arbor events are parades, rodeos, athletic tournaments, gambling games, a feed for participants and of course, concession sales and arts and crafts (Roberts 1992: 37-38).

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