An ancient practice, a dance, a gathering, a cultural affirmation... a Pow Wow is all of these things! But most importantly, it’s a unique moment of great sharing. Here are a few elements to help you understand what a Pow Wow today is like, including the regalia used and the dances themselves.
For Indigenous people, the Pow Wow is a way to affirm their culture through the generations. It represents solidarity between Nations. Pow Wows are not only open to all Indigenous communities, they are open to non-natives as well. This annual gathering is still very important today, as it brings people together; it’s a unique opportunity to experience and share culture and traditions during weekends in the summer—from May to September—in 30 or so Indigenous communities across Quebec.
Regalia: An extension of identity
The regalia is completely made from the person wearing it’s own hands. For the dancers wearing this traditional outfit, which they dreamed up themselves, the regalia represents their identity and their connection with the dance and the community. It is symbolic of belonging to the First Nations, and displays each person’s origins, beliefs, and spirituality.
In the regalia, feathers are not to be taken lightly! Dancers earn the feathers on their regalia: either the feathers were an offering, or they were found. If a feather comes off the regalia, it must be left behind. In sacred rituals, the elders will retrieve the fallen feathers and evaluate their authenticity. A dance precedes their retrieval from the ground.
Did you know?
When you attend a Pow Wow, you can feel the energy of an event that can include up to 500 dancers! Pow Wows can sometimes be quite competitive. They’re always ritualistic and spiritual. Some Pow Wows have an international reach, including the Wendake and Kahnawake Pow Wows. Since 1991, the latter has brought together the Haudenosaunee from southern Quebec, the Niagara peninsula, and New York State. For the public, it’s an opportunity to attend high-caliber dance competitions.
Pow Wow dances
Movements in traditional dance are inspired by hunting or combat scenes. The female dancers wear a bib made of vertically placed bones. This represents the ties between earth and the spirits guarded by the women. The bones on the men’s bibs are placed horizontally, symbolizing the ties between them.
Very fast-paced, the grass dance is recognizable thanks to the dozens of little strips on the regalia. These long, skinny bands on the traditional outfit represent the grass flattened out from the feet’s movements. In the past, when preparing a ceremonial site or building a village, the grass on the ground would first be trampled.
In the case of the fancy dance, the women’s regalia stands out by their bright colors and sequins; the female dancers wear a shawl. The men’s regalia, on the other hand, is covered in feathers on the lower back, as well as on the shoulders and arms.
Jingle dance or healing dance
Isabelle Aroussen Gros-Louis will always remember the dream that featured her regalia. “It was a jingle dress,” explains the dancer. “When you get a message like this, it’s so powerful! The next day, I got to work on my dress! It featured turquoise and Wendate curves that make up my identity.” Reserved exclusively to women, the jingle dance involves moving the upper body only and is done with great self-control. The dancers add 365 bells to their regalia—one for each day of the year. Women dance for the physical or spiritual healing of a person. The dance thus becomes an engagement, self-sacrifice. And dancing becomes a very powerful act of sharing and an intense moment in the Pow Wow ceremony.