Power of the Pow Wow
As summer draws to a close, First Nations across the province are wrapping up a variety of cultural events. Many communities that MFNERC works with participated in pow wows and Treaty Days. In honour of these beautiful traditional gatherings, here is a brief history of the pow wow.
One word cannot encompass the many facets of a pow wow. They are dances, drums, songs, competitions, reunions; they are a feast for all five senses.
It is generally held that the origin of the word pow wow is an adaptation from pau wau, an Algonquin word for “medicine man” or “he who dreams.” Traditionally, pow wows were gatherings to celebrate a successful hunt or victorious war party, and the dances seen at today’s pow wows have their roots in those events.
Under the Indian Act, pow wows were forbidden unless sanctioned by the government for parades and celebrations. However, following amendments to the Indian Act in 1951, they have been held without interference.
Today, they are a sheer celebration of being Aboriginal and a testament to the strength of the connection First Nations have with their cultural heritage. While many of the traditions around pow wows are rooted in the past, today they are artistic and evolving celebrations.
Regalia is a vital part of the pow wow. Every one of the beautiful and brilliant dance outfits featured at pow wows has a very personal story to tell. Feathers, leather, ribbons, silverwork, brass, and bone are just some of the materials used in making regalia, and each piece signifies something unique and special to the dancer. Often, contemporary influences on the dancer’s life are combined with traditional attire. As well, the outfit may change and evolve after each pow wow season and as the dancer goes through life.
The pow wow is more than songs, dances and outfits however. It is a whole history that’s meant to be shared, and it is exciting to see more and more young people getting invovled with this history.