Extra Credit Write-up #2
American Indian Center: 50th Annual Powwow
As an opening comment, I would like to be able to say I got to experience as much as everyone else did, but I can’t say that. Having left early in the afternoon because of illness, I won’t be able to say much about the entire day; I will, however, talk about what I did get to be there for. The visit to the powwow on Saturday, November 15th was a day that remains a memorable one. I regret not being well enough to stay longer, but in retrospect, perhaps the fact that I was influenced as much as I was—in a short span of time—says a lot about just how strong the Indian peoples’ message and philosophy is.
Arriving ahead of schedule allowed the opportunity to wander the halls and look at some of the many booths and tables. I don’t remember as much of the detail as I would like to, but I remember being impressed by the array of items for sale. There was mainly clothing, various handcrafted pieces, jewelry, ceramics and paintings. Nothing was “commercialized”; everything was shown just as it was, nothing more and nothing less. This is sort of significant in the sense that the Indian tribes are known for their connection with—and great reverence for—nature, and they don’t forsake their traditions, values or beliefs just to make a buck. The art shows not only a high level of skill and attention to detail, it says something as well. The elaborate designs, the deliberate color choices, the blend of Indian symbols with realistic depictions…all of these have a meaning. Some have a story to tell. Everything remains true to the Native Americans’ culture, their language and traditions.
I walked into the large central area around 12:30 to take a seat and await the beginning of the performance. The drum roll call occurred about quarter to one. This was sort of the way of making sure everyone was present and accounted for. Shortly thereafter a welcome address was given by the AIC Board Chairman, then the emcee also gave a brief one. The Grand Entry quickly started up, denoting the “official” (ceremonial) beginning of the Powwow. I could not accurately estimate how many dancers there were…perhaps 200 or so…but it was a spirited (and vividly colored) parade if I ever saw one. The crowd was respectful of the significance of the Grand Entry; nearly everyone stood (and those who had hats on removed them) as a sign of respect. The Eagle Staff, as it is called, was brought in to what would be the center of the circle (the eagle is thought by many tribes to represent the Thunderbird, the Creator’s messenger, and the circle is equated with the continuation of life); then four flags were brought in. The U.S. flag, Canadian flag, state flag and POW flags were brought in by veterans. I later found out that some of the women who came next were “Princesses,” who come from different tribal pageants. After that were the various dancers as organized by groups (Jingle Dress Dancers, Fancy Shawl and so on).
After the main part of the Grand Entry was a flag song, an invocation and an honor song. If I understand correctly, most tribes have their own flag song, which are dedicated to those who served in the armed forces during a war. The honor songs are sung in honor of a particular person. I do recall the intertribal in particular, where all were invited to come and join in the dancing. This was one of the most significant things, at least as I see it…I remember thinking silently just how much people could learn from these folks. How often, I said to myself, do we see people who are so universally and wholeheartedly accepting of everyone around them? To them, it seems, everyone is all the same race—the human race. Their reverence for nature and belief in the Creator, I believe, is what fosters such feelings towards others.
I remember a lot about the costumes and drums. I know that the drum is central to the culture; it is a lot more than just a musical instrument to them. It’s intense and passionate, like it’s a heartbeat throbbing right through the drum. The outfits are bright and intense; I couldn’t even begin to guess the significance of all the different parts of the outfit, like the rosette, roach, turban, epaulette, and so on. A number of the women had bells attached (to maintain the rhythm, I suppose). I noticed, even from a distance, the attention to detail and complex designs; the costumes are as vibrant and full of life as the dancers. The Powwow as a whole seemed a time to dance, sing, visit, renew old friendships and make new ones. I could go twenty pages, I could go twenty words on what I got from it all. I don’t really know what else to say; I got more out of the visit than I know how to put down into words. Maybe the fact that I can’t express it is more powerful, anyway. All I can say is that these people are really doing things right. They live in accord with nature and know how to have a good time. There’s a time for seriousness and a time for dancing; a time for quiet and a time for noise. These folks have an unmitigated (or close to it), nondiscriminatory acceptance of others. And think that not that long ago, voyagers to this “new world” (to them, anyway) realized the same things—and took advantage of the Indians instead. What manner of hypocrites would call the Indians the savages, when they (the explorers) were the ones killing in the name of God. I’m not making a religious statement one way or another, but look at what sort of events through history the Native Americans have had to put up with—like discrimination, killing and taking of land—and all that perpetrated by people who could be distant ancestors of ours. And look at how accepting of others they are despite that. Sure, nothing’s ever that black-and-white, but the point is, maybe if the explorers, some 500 years ago, had stopped to think about things, they would’ve realized the Indians had a lot to offer. They say that they who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it; maybe we ought to learn from the mistakes of the explorers and take a little time to experience a taste of Native American culture. I think we have a thing or two we could learn from them … including a good reminder of our common humanity.