PROTOCOL, BEHAVIOUR & CELEBRATION
ELDER RESPECT, DRUMS/VOCALS, POWWOWS, DANCES, REGALIA
WHO CAN PLAY INDIGENOUS DRUMS?
Some Elders and Traditional Teachers are of the opinion that anyone who is non-Native should not play Indigenous drums. They claim that the hand drums are sacred and should be handled by only Native people.
For First Nations people to deny anyone the opportunity to play a hand or big drum goes against the fundamental belief systems of most Native Nations. That is, we are one human family, and therefore, sharing, caring and participating is a fundamental tenet of that sacred inter-connectedness. Besides any sane person has to realize it is is simply not logical. Remember, we do not own anything! (See next box about theft of culture). Having said that, there is protocol and behaviour that continues to proliferate. This protocol differs from tribe to tribe. WHEN IN DOUBT - ASK.
For More on the Drums Click Fire
SHARING A CULTURE BECOMES THEFT
There is no question that Indigenous cultures are probably the most borrowed and appropriated cultures on the planet. I share the sentiments of those Indigenous Leaders (i.e. Lakhota) who lament the theft and distortion of their cultural practices by those who would use them to suit the latest spiritual fad.
CHARGING $MONEY$ FOR CEREMONIES
POWWOW GRAND ENTRY
1. The Grand Entry is the first dance of a powwow; it is led by an Eagle Staff Carrier, usually an Elder then the colour guard, made up of war veterans, who are the Flag Bearers, carrying the Canadian and American flags, Traditional Eagle Staff (Native Flag), and the flags of other participating nations, after which other Elders and the dancers follow. The Eagle Staff represents the peaceful interaction among all Native Nations, the Elders and the Indigenous way of life.
3. Dance styles by category (See Dance Descriptions below).
Men's Grass dancers with their striking outfits covered with long, colourful fringes to signify long flowing grasses follow. Their dance movements are a sliding, shaking, and spinning motion, similar to long grass blowing in the wind. Teens, Juniors and Tiny tots follow in their respective categories. Grass Dancers usually lead the procession. Reason: In the old ways, a Grass Dancer pushed the long grass down by his sliding and spinning motions, so that the others could pass through.
4. Following the male dancers are the women (sigh - a powwow is really a male-dominated event!):
After all the dancers are in the arena, flag, veterans and victory songs are sung (everyone remains standing). The flag bearers then place the flags in their stands. Ranking Elder places the Eagle Staff.
After the Grand Entry an opening prayer is offered usually in a Native language by an Elder. This is done out of respect for the flags and Native traditional ways. It is very important for spectators to remain standing and remove their hats during the grand entry.. After the prayer, the opening song starts the Powwow.
Traditional regalia has evolved over time for two important reasons:
(2) Native culture is not a sedentary culture, it ebbs and flows as Mother Earth ebbs and flows. Therefore, regalia reflects those changes. For example, the Pacific Northwest Coast people such as the Tsimshian, abandoned their traditional pre-European contact regalia, softened cedar capes (we kept the conical hats), as well as the Chilkat blanket) in favour of using capes made from European trade items, such as Hudson Bay Blankets (See more below)
EXPLANATIONS OF REGALIA
Button Blankets are unique to the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. They are a post-European garment that was borne out of trading for Hudson Bay Blankets. Initially the buttons were sparsely sewed on, but as they became more and more available, the designs became more and more elaborate. Nowadays, the blanket is made out of blue or black duffle, and trimmed in red stroud, a heavy felt-like material. As the buttons became more prolific, so did the designs. Moreover, in the early days, on the NW Coast, bullet casings were sewn on the bottom of the blankets so they rustled when a person danced. Nothing was wasted!! I have made five blankets so far, for family and ceremonial purposes. Photo is of me wearing a blue duffle blanket edged in red stroud.
Hudson’s Bay Blanket
Note: Vancouver Island was traded away for 471 blankets. The 71st blanket could have been the deal breaker!
A roach pin is a dowel that holds a roach in place. It is usually about 12 inches long and about 1/2 inch in diameter and decorated with colored tape, ribbons, and Peyote stitch beadwork. A Traditional Dancer's pin may have several eagle fluffs tied horizontally on the end. Most roach pins have small feathers that hang off the pin that should bounce around as the dancer dances.
"The headdress is reserved for our revered elders who, through their selflessness and leadership, have earned the right to wear one. It’s a spiritual garb, not just cultural; it's not merely an addition to one's attire. Wearing one, even an imitation headdress, belittles what our elders have spent a lifetime to earn." -- Simon Moya-Smith, citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and journalist
ETIQUETTE FOR VISITORS AND NEWCOMERS
Rule Number One Listen to the Master or Goddess of Ceremonies (MOC/GOC)! Each Powwow is different. All instructions for guests and participants come from the MOC.
Never attend a Powwow intoxicated or bring alcohol or any other mind-altering substance! The Powwow is a time of joyful gathering and celebration of life. Alcohol and drugs have taken a terrible toll on Native Nations and these "bad" spirits are not welcome.
Bring your own seating when attending powwows, because public seating availability is the exception rather than the rule. Lawn chairs are the most common way of solving this.
Do not sit on the benches around the arena. These benches are reserved for the dancers. You can set up your chairs behind the benches although it is courteous to ask permission to do so because the dancer might have family/friends who are going to sit there.
Ask permission before taking pictures of dancers. Many Native people are sensitive about photographs; always ask first.
Donate money to the Drum. This is done when a blanket is carried around the arena by several dancers. It is customary to place a looney/tooney (or more) in the blanket. The drum has probably traveled a great distance to give you the beautiful songs; Drummers and singers count on your gift to help pay expenses.
Always stand during special songs. This includes Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Veteran Songs, Memorial Songs, Prayer Songs, or any other song that the MOC so designates. Always remove head gear.
All tape recording must be done with the permission of the Master of Ceremonies and the Lead (or Head) Singer of EACH drum. When a new drum starts, do not rush over. Miss the song and wait for the next; take your time getting to the drum. There is nothing ruder than "Recorder-runners" crowding around a drum. Most powwows disallow taping anyway.
First Nations Dances are more than the word "dance" can describe. They are a ceremony and a prayer which all life encompasses; They are about balance, harmony and healing; they produce many emotional and spiritual reactions. Some dances are old, some are brand new. The culture continues to live and evolve.
If you are not wearing Traditional Regalia, you may only dance on social songs (Two-Step, Inter-tribal, some Honouring Songs, Circle, etc). Sometimes a Blanket dance is held to gather money. You may enter the circle to donate and dance. Listen to the MOC.
DO NOT touch anyone's Regalia (including drums, shakers and medicines) without the permission of the owner. They are not "costumes" or "stuff" but represent a living history/spirituality, and therefore sacred. Yes, Native people use modern things like safety pins because like any "living" culture, and regalia is subject to evolutionary change. Leave your stereotypes at home.
If a piece of regalia, such as a feather falls off a dancer’s outfit, DO NOT pick it up. Simply tap the person on the shoulder and point to it. If it is an eagle feather, the Powwow stops and a special song is played, as the Dancer dances around the fallen item, requesting Ancestral permission to pick it up.
It is disturbing how much trash people drop on the ground without thinking. Make an effort to walk to the trash can. Respect Mother Earth (even if it is inside).
Finally, Have fun. Buy something from the vendors (this is how most of them make their living). Donate if you can (blanket dance). Most of all, do not be nervous. Relax. The whole universe comes together at a powwow to celebrate the inter-connectedness of all living beings. You are invited to join in. Ask questions and meet people. Everyone is welcome!
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Grass Dancer Jingle Dress Fancy Shawl
GENERAL ETIQUETTE FOR SINGERS, DANCERS, DRUMMERS
I have been to many powwows over the years, and I always find it rather dismaying to watch of number of performers behave in an indifferent and outright rude manner towards those who approach to ask a question or to pose for a photo. They are interested in you; what you are wearing, what you are singing, what you are playing. A photograph is a memory and to show friends and family. For people visiting from other countries, they take those memories back home; they help to promote our cultures all across the globe.
So, general shyness aside, stop acting like it is an imposition. You are ambassadors for your culture, smile, be friendly, it costs you nothing to be kind and of good cheer to another person. After all, you DID come in the first place all dressed up to show off didn't you? So, why not smile while you are strutting your stuff.
ETIQUETTE FOR DANCERS
Never come to a Powwow intoxicated or bring alcohol or any other mind-altering substance!
Be on time,and dressed in your regalia and ready to go before the Grand Entry. It is a sign of disrespect not to participate in the Grand Entry, and you may lose points if you are contesting!
Place your blanket on the bench where you want to sit ahead of time. Nothing is worse than not having a seat after the dancing has begun! Never sit on someone else's blanket without their permission.
Dance as many dances as you can. It is in bad taste to dance only a few of the dances. At Formal War Dances, you will not be allowed to take a break until everyone does.
Show respect to the Head Dancers. Do not begin dancing until they do, and honour their special status with a loonie/toonie given to them in a handshake.
If you wish to honour a person, place a gift at their feet while they are dancing. If you are honoured in this way, dance in place by your gift until the Arena Director or another person picks it up off of the ground and gives it to you. Never pick it up yourself.
If you drop some part of your regalia, it is not customary to pick it up, although this differs from powwow to powwow. Dance in place beside it until the Arena Director picks it up for you. You will probably be asked to give something for its return to you. At some powwows, all dropped articles belong to the Arena Director. As noted above, when an Eagle feather is dropped, the powwow is stopped and a ceremony is performed to pick it up. Sometimes, an Elder is asked to pick up the feather, and h/she will keep the feather.
In a Two Step, it is Ladies' choice. If you refuse to dance with the first person who asks you, you may have to give her at least five or ten dollars (the MOC will usually say). The same rule applies to a hat or shawl dance.
ETIQUETTE FOR THE BIG DRUM AND SINGERS
Only those with permission of the Lead Singer may sit at a drum. It is a good idea to know the songs because it is often a habit to ask the "stranger" to lead a song! Be prepared. In Moonstone's case, Sandy and I share the Lead Singer/Drum role. We don't expect people to know our songs, because they are often sung in a west coast language, Sm'algyax. We just ask them to join in the chorus and and enjoy themselves on our big drum.
In some most traditions, women are not allowed to play the big drum, but are allowed to sing, sitting behind the man who asked her to sing.
Playing the Big Drum for women is changing (particularly for those families who have only daughters to pass the songs and teachings to). (Don't get me started on this, I've already ranted enough, (see Women's page) See Tribal Drum page.
OKAY GET ME GOING ON THIS! "This tiresome paternalistic attitude by some to control the role of Native women in their own cultures and, who after years of indoctrination into Christianity have trouble with the idea that Matriarchal societies had equal gender representation in all things, simply has to stop. it is a hard road for us, but we are making progress. It is neither historically or culturally correct to ban a woman from practicing her culture wherever and whenever she so chooses.
Watch Video: "The Enduring Spirit of Aboriginal Women"
Any monetary gift to the drum is given to the Lead Drummer, Sandy or myself. It is our job to divide the gift among the rest of the drum members.
Never sing too loud or over-beat. Mistakes such as these are forgiven with a monetary contribution to the Head Singer.
Every one and everything passes around the drum in one direction, depending on the tribe the drum belongs to. Do not pass things over the drum. Always sing your best. Enjoy yourself, and know that without the drum, there is no Powwow.
EXPLANATION OF SOME OF THE DANCES
"Dance Hard, Sing Good!"
Fancy Dance (Men)
Fancy Shawl (Women)
Northern Traditional dress and Southern Straight dress differs. Northern dancers wear a single bustle of eagle feathers whereas Southern dancers wear an otter hide that trails down their backs. When they dance, they "track" or watch the ground for clues and signs. Many times the dances are prayers in and of themselves. This is why everyone is asked to remove their hats when men dance. The men dance with dignity and pride.
EXPLANATION OF SONGS
Honouring and Honour Songs
Since the time of the Ancients, Native people have had a sense of generosity that is unique among all cultures. Such generosity has developed into the giveaway, an action or even a ceremony where a person, family or organization is honoured and in return gives away many gifts of high quality to their friends and the staff of powwows.
This begins with a special song sung by the drummers for a particular person or people honoured, usually a family song that was composed for that family. The person or people and their friends then slowly dance around the circle, and people in attendance who feel so moved are allowed to give the people a small gift and then join the "procession."
This will usually continue for about one or two songs, when the dance will end and the people return to their seats. The person or people honoured will go to the GOC/MOC's table and have a person speak for them, who tells about the honoured party and then announces the names of people whom they in turn would like to show their appreciation to.
When a person's name is called, he or she stands and walks around the arena to the MOC's table and receives a gift, which is often a blanket or a food basket of some sort. It is always customary in a giveaway to honour the head staff and the drum, and then honour those who have helped you.