Pow Wows are celebrations of Native American culture and heritage. Originally, they were held in the spring to welcome the new beginnings of life. It was a time when people gathered together to visit with family, to sing, dance, gamble and to renew old friendships and make new ones. In this setting, young people had the opportunity to meet and court.

In the old days, “Pow Wows” had religious significance as well. Families held their naming and honoring ceremonies during these times. For mid-western tribes, the celebration was also a prayer to the one called in Lakota language Wakan Tanka the Great Mystery or Great Spirit. According to some historians, the word “Pow Wow” comes from the Algonquin tribe’s language for a meeting of medicine men or spiritual leaders. In the Algonquin tradition, Pow Wows were held for healing and success in hunting and battle.

Other historians believe “Pow Wow” is an Anglo-Saxon interpretation derived from the Massachusett Indian word “pauwau”, which referred to tribal and family councils held for decision-making and dispute resolution.

In colonial America, white settlers misapplied the word “Pow Wow” to any gathering of Indian people. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the United States government attempted to repress native culture and traditions. Many non-Indians believed that Indian culture had to be destroyed because it was the complete opposite of what they saw as “civilization.”

As East Coast tribes were moved further westward across the United States, through the government policy of relocation, their customs spread to other tribes with whom they came in contact. Gatherings of Indian peoples began to reflect the traditions and celebrations of a number of tribes.