Sometimes called Wacipi (pronounced Wa chee pee), the powwow is a traditional Native American cultural celebration where the generations gather to socialize, dance, sing, visit, renew old friendships and make new ones.
In Dakota language, the word “Wacipi” literally means “they dance.”
This is a time to renew thoughts of old ways, educate our youth about Dakota culture, and preserve our rich heritage.
Often held over a weekend, a Powwow is filled with songs and dances, singers with drums, and dancers in their regalia. Regalia (pronounced Re gail ya) is the proper term used to describe the highly decorated clothing worn by the powwow dancers.
A Wacipi or Powwow is the celebration of life… of family…and the offering of honor and respect for dignitaries, royalty, our culture, and of native people.
The Wacipi usually begins with a blessing of the arena, which is considered sacred ground.
The Indian Way is about respect…
Respect for culture, family, others, veterans,
children, elders, life, the Creator,
and respect for self.
If you have never attended a Wacipi or Powwow before, here are some helpful tips which will help you understand more about the culture, and hopefully help you be more comfortable:
NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL are allowed under any circumstances.
The Arena is Sacred Ground
The Arena is a grassy area that has been chosen, on which the dancing and singing will take place. This is sacred land. It has been blessed for the gathering; prayers have been said and tobacco has been offered to the Creator. This is not an area where children are invited to play. Treat this area like a church. There is no smoking in the dance area inside the Arena. It is not an area for the public to use as a short cut. Do not walk across the Arena or allow children to run through that area. No dogs or pets are allowed in the Arena. No food or drink while dancing or during prayers or honor songs.
In the middle of the Arena, there are flag poles and holders for the Eagle Feather Staffs and flags. Veterans, who are greatly esteemed in Native cultures, will bring the flags and staffs in during the Grand Entry. Indian People have a great and long tradition of serving in the US military, and Veterans are honored for their willingness to serve their country and for offering their lives to keep others safe.
Inside the Arena you may see rows of chairs and blankets on the ground. Please do not disturb these.
You may bring your own lawn chair if you wish, but please be considerate of others, particularly the dancers and singers. Do not sit between a drum group and the center of the Arena. You may not want to sit directly in front of the large speakers either.
Do not sit on areas of the bleachers where blankets have been placed. If you wish to come early and reserve a space with your own blanket, you may do so.
The area with chairs in the Announcer’s Stand is reserved for elders and those who are disabled. Elders are held in high regard by Native people and should be treated with dignity and respect. They have lived their lives, learning along the way, and have much to offer us, so we honor them.
There are two Arena Directors who are responsible for keeping everything in the Arena running smoothly. Their role is very important and should be respected.
Masters of Ceremonies will be announcing over the loudspeaker periodically to keep the dancers, singers, and crowd informed, explain the dance styles, tell jokes and generally keep the action moving.
There are times during the Powwow when it is NOT appropriate to take photographs. During prayers or ceremonies, or any time the announcer says so.
You may take photos, for your own personal use, of dancers in the arena. Outside the arena, please ask before you take photos of any dancer(s).
Remove Your Cap
Please show respect during the Grand Entry, Honor Songs, and prayers by standing and removing your cap or hat. If you are elderly or have a medical condition, it is fine for you to sit if you need to.
Respect Regalia & Drums
Do NOT TOUCH a dancer’s regalia, even if it has fallen. Show them the lost item and let them pick it up themselves.
Never touch the drum or the drumsticks. Do not walk between the drum and the chairs that are around it. (Drums are sacred and have been blessed. They are the heartbeat of the people, and heartbeat of the Nation.)
Shaking hands is an important acknowledgement of another person. It says, “I acknowledge you as a fellow spiritual being on this path of life. I am glad to see you.” In Dakota culture, you shake hands any time you see someone you know. Any time you are introduced to someone, it is appropriate to shake hands. This is generally done very gently, not forcefully as is customary in the business world.
During Honor Songs announced by the MC, you may enter the Arena and shake hands with the family. Then get in the line of people and dancers behind them, if you want to participate. Follow what other people are doing. Those who are elderly or disabled may shake hands and return to their seats.
The Powwow is a Sacred Gathering
Please be respectful at all times. Behave as you would at church, but don’t be surprised to hear lots of laughter, joking, and gentle teasing. Humor is important to Native peoples because laughter is a gift from the Creator.
All of life is a gift from the Creator.
Walk around the grounds, look at the merchandise in vendor booths, smell the frybread, drink lemonade. Try your first Indian taco.
Treat Unci Maka, Grandmother Earth, with respect by picking up after yourself. Leave an area cleaner than you found it.
You may Dance in the Arena
You may dance in the Arena during an “Intertribal” time, even if you are not wearing regalia. Just walk in time with the beat of the drums and watch others around you to see what they do.
It is considered impolite to show off or horse around.
What is Regalia and what is the cultural significance of it?
Native American regalia is special dress, ornamentation, jewelry and other paraphernalia which is worn for particular occasions such as festivals and dances, ceremonies and rituals. The style of dress, symbols used in designs, colors in beadwork and other ornaments can help identify the wearer’s tribe or family. Specific aspects of regalia can also indicate the wearer’s political or marital status.
New England Native Americans have a unique style of regalia different from other areas. One piece center-seam moccasins, porcupine quill, moose hair and floral bead-work applique, wampum belts, bracelets and headbands, brass and copper ornaments and certain kinds of featherwork are distinctive of New England. Traditionally in deer, elk, moose and other skins or hand-woven materials, Northeastern Native American Regalia now incorporates trade cloth, glass beads and other items of European origin.
Traditionally, regalia is set aside and worn only for special gatherings. Certain outfits or elements of clothing were undoubtedly worn only for particular ceremonies. Some regalia is sacred or has been ritually purified or blessed (“smudged” or wiped with the smoke of sacred herbs). Always seek permission before handling someone else’s special dress to avoid spiritual contamination of their regalia. Today, wearing regalia is a way to maintain Native American Heritage, to take pride in and pass on old traditions and help create new ones. Many traditional elements of pre-European contact regalia have been preserved since ancient times, but new styles of dance regalia evolved with the development of the Pow Wow festival.