Pow Wow


The Fourth Homecoming Pow Wow at Kahnawake, Quebec in 1994

Kahnawake was the scene of the "Oka" crisis of 1990



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The Pow Wow

Bringing First Nations Together  

The pow wow is an activity unlike anything in the culture of non­-natives.

The  pow wow is a spiritual gathering of nations,  while  at  the same  time  it  serves  to distinguish  between  the  social  and cultural differences that set natives apart from other societies. Indeed, the pow wow is the expression of a way of life for native communities  across Canada and the United States.  And while  the pow  wow  is  colour in motion  to  most  non-natives,  to  North American Indians the pow wow serves a far greater purpose.

Despite  the ever-changing face of the nation on both the  social and  political  fronts,  pow wow tradition is one  constant  that remains throughout First Nations communities.

As well, the pow wow serves to bond tribes and bands of different linguistic geographical locations, building a bridge between it's paricipants.  All Indians, whether they are of Ojibway, Iroquois or  Sioux descent,  are welcomed to take part in the  intertribal festivities.  

Women's Traditional Dance

From  early spring to late fall,  year after year,  natives  from across  North  America travel great distances to  gather  and  to celebrate their heritage through singing and dancing.  It is  the expression of harmony among First nations and a way of life  that has not been forgotten. The history of the pow wow is a long one. One  must  go  back to the arrival  of  French  explorer  Jacques Cartier,  in  1534,  to  the "new world" for the  first  recorded account of native dancing.  carter recorded that up0n his arrival at  the mouth of the St Laurence river,  he was greeted by  seven canoes filled  with Indian warriors dancing while the women, knee deep in water,  danced along the shoreline.  Cartier also noticed that he had landed among the Algonquin Indians.

Further up the river,  he was again greeted in a likewise manner, upom  his arrival in the Iroquois village of Hochelaga.  It  was observed  and recorded by Cartier that dancing was universal  to the  native communities,  as well as vital to  their  ceremonial practises.

The term pow wow is a European term that has since been  borrowed back by natives.

"Pau wau", which means medicine man or conjuror, was misconstrued by European settlers who witnessed the healing practises of  the village shaman as he was also known as.

The frequent use of the word was taken to mean "the gathering  of natives"   that  surrounded  the  medicine  man  during healing practices,  rather  than the man himself.  Since  the  Nineteenth century, "pow  wow" has largely been associated with any  meeting, religious  or  social  event  involving  natives.   The  pow  wow therefore, can be said to be a gathering of First Nations.

The  historical  origins  of the pow wow  point  to  the  Plains Indians  of  The United States.  Other accounts state  that  the Algonquin Indians of New England played a significant role in the development of the modern day pow wow as it is commonly regarded. Probably  the most significant renderings of native life  in  the early  days of European exploration can be realised  through  the artistic works of George Catlin.

Catlin spent eight years amongst the Sioux Indians of the  Plains in  the  early 1830's,  painting and writing about their  way  of life.  He  is regarded as the best known of the American  artists who depicted Indian life.  His writings are also valuable sources of information.

Natives  lived  an oral tradition and taught the  ceremonies  and dances  to  future generations by word  of  mouth. Therefore,  the writings and paintings of settlers, in particular George Catlin, are primary sources for historical analysis,  as far as the early pow wow traditions are concerned.

Today,  not  unlike  the days of initial contact with  the  first

European settlers,  the pow wow continues to bring First  Nations together; harmoniously and with great pride and dignity.

Reproduced  with the kind permission of The Mississuagas  of  the New Credit First Nation


Russell Noganosh



Photograph taken at Hamilton Pow Wow by James Simcoe

Russell Noganosh - Native Canadian Artist, Dancer and Singer

There is a great flute player from the USA called Joseph Firecrow. Visit his site at, http://www.josephfirecrow.com/

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