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
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.