Pow Wow 101

Pow Wow time is the Indigenous people’s way of meeting together, to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships, making new ones and most importantly celebrating and honoring traditions. Quintessential to a pow wow are the dancers and the singers. The songs of the “Big Drum” are sung by the men who sit around it, and at times with women who sing behind the men. The beating sound made by the Drum is often said to parallel the heart beat of Mother Earth. Each song is begun by the Lead Singer who is often the main carrier of many songs. Those are the songs that have been learned throughout the years and passed down from generations. Dancers have always been a very important part of the life for the Indigenous people. Most dances seen at Pow Wows today are social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles have evolved and content has changed, their meaning and importance has not. The regalia worn by the dancers – like the styles of clothing today, transforms over time – showcases a vibrant and changing way of life.  At the pow wow, the announcers run the events. The announcers work with the arena director to keep the pow wow organized and running smoothly. These individuals along with the committee work hard to bring the people together to dance and fellowship together in the circle.

Etiquette for Visitors and Newcomers

Ask permission before taking pictures of dancers  Many people are sensitive about pictures, so it is always good to be on the safe side and ask. Do not touch eagle feathers or other items without asking permission Women who are menstruating are not allowed to be near or touch eagle feathers. Always stand during special songs This includes Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Veteran Songs, Memorial Songs, Prayer Songs, and any song the announcer(s) designates. It is also customary to remove any hats that you have on for the duration of that song. Pay attention to the announcers, they will give all of the information you need, as well as entertain you and keep you posted on news. Any questions you have can be answered by them. Remember you are a guest Have fun, ask questions and meet people. Everyone is welcome!    

What is a Grand Entry? 

The Grand Entry has always been part of pow wow protocol. Usually, the host drum is asked to sing the Grand Entry song. The arena director will organize and coordinate the staffs, flags, dignitaries, royalty, and dancers. 

An elder who has been pre-selected will share an invocation/prayer to bless the day. 

Grand Entry Order: (usually dance 4 to a row) 

The eagle staffs/flags are danced in by a visiting dancer in front of the line. Each staff represents a nation, organization, or family.    Dignitaries will follow the eagle staffs/flags: dignitaries-chiefs, sponsors, committee, honourees'   Visiting royalty i.e., visiting princess’ and braves who represent their communities, festivals or pow wows   Dance Order: 

Mens traditional dancers, prairie chicken dancers, grass dancers, fancy bustle dancers,  Women’s traditional dancers, jingle dress dancers, fancy shawl dancers  Teen, juniors, tiny-tot dancers  

Another drum will then be selected to sing a flag song, whereby all spectators and dancers will listen. Finally, the last song will be a victory/veteran dance. All dancers will dance in place to honour all veterans from all nations who fought in any war.  

The pow wow announcers will then introduce the eagle staff carriers, dignitaries and royalty individually.

Mens Traditional 

Mens Northern Traditional dancers wear headdresses, referred to as a roach, on their heads. The roaches are made with porcupines and deer hair intricately woven together. Eagle feathers are worn on top of the roaches. A stick with eagle plumes attached at the end fastens the roach to the top of the head and a string around the neck fastens the roach midway down the back. Northern Traditional dancers wear bone breastplates, which were originally used for protection during battle or hunting. The rest of the outfit is comprised of an eagle feather bustle, matching bead work (cuffs, arm bands, belt with side drops, leg bands, moccasins), apron (front and back), the back of the apron has decorative "trailers", and chokers made of animal bones. The dancers wear angora fur and large bells around their ankles. Years ago, deer toes were worn around the ankles. Some dancers carry eagle wing fans, shields, or coup sticks decorated with eagle plumes and horsehair in their hands.  

Mens Grass Dance 

The Grass Dance style is a very old dance rich in history that has become very popular. In the old days, it was the job of the grass dancers to flatten the grass in the arena before a pow wow. The name "grass" does not come from the stomping of grass, but it comes from the old habit of tying braids of sweet grass to the dancer's belts, producing a swaying effect. Today, Grass Dancers resemble a multicolored swaying mass of yarn or fringe on the dance floor. The Grass Dance is a very fluid and bendable style, with the dancers trying to move their fringe in as many places as possible at once. The Grass Dance style was born in the north, but its popularity has spread south, now this beautiful style is available for everyone. 

Mens Fancy Bustle 

A stick with brightly colored feathers attached at the end fastens the roach to the top of the head and a string around the neck fastens the roach midway down the back. Two bustles are worn, one is attached to the back with buckskin straps tied to the chin and chest and the other is worn at the waist. The dancers wear fully beaded capes and aprons with matching belts with side drops, cuffs, and moccasins. They also wear small bustles on their arms, which match the large bustles. They carry sticks decorated with brightly colored feathers and ribbons in their hands. The complete outfit is decorated with multi-colored ribbons to add movement to the dance steps. The dancers wear bells on the on the calves and white angora fur around the angles. Horsehair is sometimes added to the tips of the bustles. 

Mens Prairie Chicken Dance 

Originated from the Blackfeet and Cree of the Northern Plains, this dance is done as an imitation of the mating dance of prairie chicken grouse. Dance steps and movement of the dancer’s head and arms replicate the prairie chicken rooster as it fluffs up its feathers and struts about.    


Womens Northern Traditional 

Each tribe has specific dress and dance styles, the following are the more typical ones seen at a pow wow. The northern plains traditional dancers are sometimes referred to as "stationary" dancers. They stand on the outer edge of the dance arena. They barely move their feet and gently bend their knees and sedately move up and down in rhythm with the drum. The northwestern tribes dance around the arena moving their feet and heads in rhythm with the drum. The cloth dress and buckskin dresses are different but the dance style is the same for most of the northern plains tribes. The northern traditional buckskin dresses are elaborately decorated with beadwork. The yoke and sleeves of the dresses are completely beaded. The dress may also be decorated with porcupine quillwork, shells, elk teeth, or brass beads. The remainder of the outfit includes matching headbands or crown, hair tie, purses, moccasins, chokers, earring and shawl. Women who have an Indian name will wear an eagle feather or eagle plume in their hair. 

Womens Jingle Dress 

The jingle dress is made of a cloth, velvet or leather base adorned with jingles made out of a shiny metal. Traditionally and still common today, the jingles are made from the lids of snuff cans. These are bent and molded into triangular bell shapes and attached to the dress with ribbon or fabric in a pattern designed by the dancer. It takes between 400 and 700 jingles to make an adult jingle dress. Contemporary style Jingle Dress is more colourful and energetic. Contemporary jingle has fancier footwork with a faster drum beat. The women who dance this style wear plumes in their hair, and usually carry a tail fan. You will also notice their dresses are brighter with appliqué designs. 

Womens Fancy Shawl 

Womens fancy dance features a fast pace and the distinctive brightly colored shawl. The shawl itself is an adaptation of the blanket carried or worn traditionally by women. That and other similar actions led women to develop a Fancy Dance for females. The regalia is simple: a basic dress, a yoke, moccasins, leggings, and a shawl worn over the shoulders and arms.  Fancy shawl dancers typically wear plumes and side drops in their hair. As the years progressed, contemporary Fancy Shawl outfits have become brighter, fancier, and more intricately detailed. Original style fancy shawl outfits are not as brightly coloured and detailed. The original style dance has more footwork but not as much twirls and kicks.

* We recognize that each area and tribe has their own origin and description on the different styles