Some Elders 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.

  • This is a big time power trip by some folks who in the post-1970s decided to rewrite Indigenous history.

  • Just because we are born Native does not give us the right to judge who can play, and who cannot play a drum or a shaker or a flute, for that matter. I understanding greatly, by the way, our loss of cultural knowledge; it is something that we, as Native people agonize over every day. Nonetheless, it is not the place for any of us to decide who can and who cannot play a drum.

  • The Drum  represents the "Universal" Heart Beat of Mother Earth Native people do not have the franchise on drums. ALL Mother Earth's children have an inherent right to celebrate their lives and the life of their parent, the Earth Mother by playing any and all kinds of drums. 

  • Drums are an inherent part of most Cultures. I am always invited to participate in celebrations where drums, such as djembe's, for example, and other celebratory items are part of another culture's ceremonies. This is what sharing and being one universal family is all about, never mind just being polite!

  • Moreover, I have observed many non-Native MEN sitting at 'Men's' Big Drums having been invited by them to play and wail away - what is wrong with this picture, can't have it both ways, gentlemen.

For us 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.





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.


  • A weekend course does not an Indigenous person make! 

  • SACRED PIPE: Giving yourself a pipe does not an Indigenous person make, the pipe carries no purpose or power.  The receipt of a pipe occurs in only two time-honoured ways and this is only after years of learning and walking the walk in a good way.

  • It is not appropriate to lead sweatlodges, visionquests and other sacred ceremonies unless you have: (a) walked the legitimate Native walk and talked the legitimate Native talk for years and have been recognized by a Native community, OR (b) been adopted into a tribe and have followed their practices for years OR (c) been sanctioned by a legitimate pipe-carrying  Elder(s) who has known you for years and/or you have studied with for decades.



  • Charging money for, spending money for or leading sacred ceremonies just because you were born Indigenous, but have done very little personal inner work does not an Elder make! On the other hand, Gifts of money to legitimate Elders is a whole other issue, keep reading.

  • Elders who charge money for sweatlodges visionquests, and other sacred ceremonies receive no benefit; what goes around comes around - this is over the line in terms of selling Indigenous culture. Once again, the Ancestors will leave the tipi/longhouse/plankhouse/wigwam'hogun - they have no interest in staying where proper respect, sharing has not been shown.

  • In other words, some things you share, other things you charge for -

    • NEVER ask an Elder how much money you should give. It places me in the embarrassing position of having to suggest an amount, and this, then changes the "Gift' to a fee" for activities in which a fee is not appropriate, (i.e., sweatlodge, special feasts, hand drum or Big Drum wakening ceremonies, naming, colours, Yaawk, Sun Dance, visionquests.) Give the best that you can, along with a gift of tobacco.

    • FEES FOR SERVICE  Other than special ceremonies such as the ones listed above, Elders have the right, like any other knowledgeable professional in their field to charge for services.  This is, after all, how I make my living.  

    • There seems to be an odd view that all things "Indigenous" are given away because of some misguided notion that the Faithkeepers and Cultural Guardians do not have to eat, travel, pay bills or live somewhere! 

      Events such as Workshops, Elder's Conferences, Speeches, Educational or Entertainment venues where expert opinion and talent are being sought are like any other professional or formal gig; fees are attached according to the fee scale of the individual whose services are being sought. 

      I am trying to imagine Bill Gates or Bill Clinton giving a speech for free! Be clear in your mind just what it is you are asking for

      DO NOT make me ask for the payment. Most Elders are reticent about having to do this. The negotiation has already been agreed upon therefore, the remuneration should be ready and promptly given prior to to me starting my work. 

      NOTE:  Even if there is a fee involved, the Elder or Traditional Teacher should always be given a gift of tobacco; an additional gift of some sort is at the discretion of the organization, but it is a respectful and nice thing to do.




Me in one of my Button Blankets





  • If you see that an Elder at an event does not have a specially assigned helper, make a point of offering to assist them in any way (i.e., get them their food, something to drink; assist with setting up, etc.)

  • If you are sitting, stand when an Elder enters the room. It's just polite.

  • NEVER approach an Elder  with a request for information, or for her to do something for you without first offering a gift of tobacco and another gift of some sort (money is considered a gift, and very welcome as Elder's more often than not are living close to or below the financial poverty line). It is also up to the Elder to decide whether she will respond.  If she agrees she will take the gifts.

  • If you are requesting a "Native Name", Sweatlodge, Visionquest, Drum wakening or some other major undertaking, the gift should be commensurate with the level of the request.  

  • Do not expect an immediate response. It is up to the Elder to decide if she wants to do it. You must be patient and wait, I, for one, do not like to be pushed into immediate responses as I need to contemplate for awhile and wait for Ancestral instruction.




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 military 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.

2. Following the Flag Bearers are the members of the powwow's "Royalty": Male and Female Elders, Traditional Teachers, Male and Female Head Dancers followed by the Princesses. 


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.


Men's Traditional: Protectors and preservers of the traditional ways; with their double eagle feather bustles and their high kicking steps. 


Men's Fancy:  Recognized by their colourful regalia and fabulous, swirling, high-impact aerobic dance steps! 

4. Following the male dancers are the women (sigh - a powwow is really a male-dominated event):

Women's Traditional dancers, who dance in a stately and poised manner, dressed in elaborately decorated regalia with Eagle plumes worn on the back of the head and an Eagle fan in the right hand. My Pacific Northwest coast button blanket falls into the Women's traditional category.


Women's Fancy Shawl dancers, whose long, graceful fringed shawls are draped over the shoulders; they are the butterflies dancing in the fields on a warm summer day. 


Women's Jingle dancers who dance a dance of healing.




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 with hats removed during the grand entry.. After the prayer, the opening song starts the Powwow. 




Traditional regalia has evolved over time for two important reasons: 

(1) The loss of much of Native culture due to the imposition of European traditions, values and oppressive laws drastically reduced the number of Elders who carried the traditional knowledge about ceremony and appropriate regalia. Therefore, much of what we see today, is post-European contact in scope, and getting fancier all the time for the simple reason we have access to more neat stuff to put on the regalia.

(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)




Primarily Anishinaabe. Bandoliers are long strings of bone hairpipe and beads that are worn on the body from the shoulder across the chest to the opposite hip. Most dancers (straight and traditional) may wear one or two. There are many different styles of bandoliers available, and materials can vary slightly, such as having mescal beans or rifle casings instead of bone hairpipe. They can also be fantastically beaded as in the case of the Anishinaabe regalia. It is also post-European regalia because of the access to cloth and beads. it was worn only by males and in honour of the Midewewin society. This stunning regalia was always made by women for their men.





Beadwork is the art of sewing beads on practically anything and/or creating beautiful jewellry; it is a post-European contact tradition that began when traders arrived in the Americas; they brought with them beautiful glass beads from France, Italy and Bohemia (Czech Republic) to trade.  Native women learned how to sew these very small beads to their possessions and this task has subsequently evolved into an exquisite art form. 

The breastplate is an assortment of thin hollowed out bones that are strung together in rows and hung from the neck for protection. Originally they were shorter but today often reach a dancer's waist or knees.  Over time they have been used more and more for decoration than anything else. Today's breastplates are part of several dance styles (Women and Men's Traditional). 



Bustles are arrangements of feathers that are worn on the body. Originally, bustles were worn by only a few honored dancers, but as time progressed, they became part of the Traditional and Fancy Dance Outfits. Fancy dancers can use turkey, hawk, and eagle feathers to make the twin bustles they wear. If they are making their bustles in the "Oklahoma" style, for example, multi-coloured hackle feathers are attached to the main feathers to produce the rows of colours. An all-tail feather bustle is very sought after, but mixtures of tail and wing and all-wing are still very beautiful. Bustles can be decorated with horsehair, angora fur, eagle fluffs, and white leather spots.

Button Blanket

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 that has its origins in Scotland. 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.

Clacker's or "toes" are sets of deer toes that have been sewn into a band of leather and tied around the ankles or legs. These can be used instead of bells and produce a nice sounding rattle as the wearer dances. Bells are more commonly used because of their availability and attached to leather straps are the most commonly accepted adornment.  Nowadays, bells primarily take the place of the deer toes, for obvious reasons!

Dance Staff
A dance staff is a long "stick" held in one hand by some dancers as they dance. It may be decorated with beadwork, feathers, and coloured tape and often has objects attached to it, such as an eagle's foot or head, a bull's horn or antlers. The decoration of the staff is left entirely left to the dancer. The staff is related in history to the coup stick, a staff carried into battle by many Plains tribes. It was considered a greater honour to be able to strike an enemy with a coup stick and return safely rather than kill him.  It caused great humiliation to the warrior who was struck because the action suggested he was not worthy of killing.

Feather Fan
In the powwow sense, a fan is a group of feathers a person can use in certain dances (or to fan themselves), such as the Men's and Women's traditional dances. There are several different varieties, including flat fan (made from eagle tail feathers), wing fan (made from entire wing outside of the knuckle or of a few wing feathers), and loose fan (made from an assortment of eagle, hawk, turkey or goose feathers that are bound loosely on a beaded or animal hide-bound base. When the fan is raised over the head during a dance, it is a sign of interconnectedness between the dancer and Power Spirit.

 Hudson’s Bay Blanket
The HBC blanket is a gorgeous wool blanket made in England that was often used as trade or special giveaway items at Pacific Northwest Coast feasts, for example. It was first introduced in the Fur Trade years, around 1780. HBC Blankets come in several very beautiful designs The early French male traders made winter coats out of them called Capote’s (French for robe or cape). A true capote is one that is completely hand sewn with the seams on the 'outside' of the garment (the guys had never herd the term 'inseam'). (Photo Right) I had the fun of making one of these amazing coats at an HBC workshop where I was telling stories. The HBC blankets are expensive (about $400.00 (Cdn) for the average full blanket) and were considered by my people, as second only to  copper as symbols of prestige and affluence.

Note: Vancouver Island was traded away for 471 blankets. The 71st blanket could have been the deal breaker!

Métis sash
Symbolizes togetherness/connectedness; Sharing and Caring about each other, and the Métis Nation.  Worn around the waist or sometimes across the chest. I am the proud keeper of the one in the photo. It was given to me as an "Elder gift" some years ago.




Moccasins are the traditional footwear of many Native people. Although in the past there were many styles, the predominant style today is that of the Plains tribes, because it has a hard sole that stands up to the rigors of several months of hard dancing. Moccasins can be beaded or quilled, and are sometimes left plain. (Photo is a couple of styles of mine)

A roach is a type of headdress made from tied porcupine and deer hair. Usually there are several rows of each hair tied onto a woven base so that the hairs will stand upright and move gracefully with the movement of the dancer. The deer hair is placed outside of the longer porcupine hair and may be dyed to match the regalia of the person who is wearing it. They are held on a dancer's head either with a scalp lock, a braided piece of hair, which is brought up through a hole in the middle of the base and then run through with a roach pin, or with shoestrings that are attached to the roach pin and tied around the head. Although historically roaches were only made about 12 to 15 inches in length, today longer roaches are in style, varying from 18 to 22 inches, normally. Occasionally some are seen up to 36 inches. Roaches are the most common form of headdress found at modern powwows and can be worn by all of the men's dance styles. The roach is held open with a spreader and can be decorated with scalp feathers.

Roach Pin

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.

Scalp Feathers
Scalp feathers are feathers (or sometimes one feather) that is tied in the hair at the base of the roach. They many be decorated with fluffs, pieces of fur, metal that are cut into the feather.

War Bonnet
It is the most common stereotypical piece of regalia. It is assumed that everyone wore these, when in fact, only dozen or so PLAINS tribes wore them, for example, Lakhota, Crow, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Plains Cree. They were worn only by Chiefs and others who had earned the right. The term WAR Bonnet is a misnomer as they were seldom worn in battle. Warriors preferred the less cumbersome Roach headdresses. Originally, to own one was a sacred display of a warrior's honour and courage. The War Bonnet was romanticized through early Hollywood western movies and television and were adopted by a few other tribes mainly due to tourism and because they are simply fabulous to look at.  However,...

"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)




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.

If you are asked to dance by an Elder, do so. It is rude and disrespectful to refuse or say, "I don't know how." How can you learn if you turn an Elder down?

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!





            Grass Dancer    Jingle Dress  Fancy Shawl 


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 ask 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.




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.




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 post 1970s 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.

Host Drum
A particular group of singers who are designated as the first group to open the powwow. They usually play the Flag Song and the Grand Entry (among others).




"Dance Hard, Sing Good!"
Bo Young Bear, Northern Traditional Dancer 

Blanket Dance 
Refers more to purpose rather than a specific dance. A blanket or shawl is carried around the perimeter of the dance arena to accept monetary contribution. The purpose is primarily for an individual or family or drum in desperate need. Spectators may contribute voluntarily and in whatever amount they deem appropriate. The purpose is announced prior to the singing of the song(s) for this dance. 

Chicken Dance
Blackfoot/Cree origin and usually danced by grass dancers. It represents the mating dance of the prairie chicken that lives on the plains. They mime fluffing feathers and the strutting habits of the prairie chicken grouse by jerking the neck, using a pecking motion of the head and tapping the ground all the while moving forward and spinning.


Crow Hop
It was noted by warriors a long time ago that the crow was always the first bird on the scene after a battle or hunting trip. In their victory dances the male warriors imitated this bird.  The Crow Straight Dance can be identified by the bells worn down the sides of the legs, and apron, yoke and small bustle. The dance originates from Montana and is danced to a fast drum beat. It is distinguished by the sliding of the feet.  

Fancy Dance (Men)
 The spectacular double-bustled outfits are colour co-ordinated, and the dancers usually young because of the extreme physicality  and risk of the high-stepping movements. They must also be extremely physically coordinated, spinning, twisting and leaping through what is undoubtedly the most athletic of powwow dances. Men's fancy dancing was originally established in Oklahoma and quickly spread throughout Native Country. The dancers are judged on their fast footwork, originality and regalia. The dance is very much a 'cock on the walk' strut and the steps emulate aggressive warrior stances and should be danced with pride. 

Fancy Shawl (Women)
Imagine a caterpillar spinning itself into a cocoon and emerging as a beautiful butterfly flying from flower to flower deep in the meadows in the hot summer sun. Elaborately designed and beaded dresses, moccasins, and leggings are complemented by beautifully embroidered or decorated long-fringed shawls. The colourful outfits match the spirited twirling and prancing of the butterfly. One story says that when a male butterfly was killed in battle the female mourned and went into a cocoon - her shawl. She travels all over the world in sadness, stepping on every rock until she finds beauty in a particular rock. She is then able to see her new life without her mate. With this in mind, it is easy to see that the judging of women's fancy is based on fluidity of movements as well as fancy footwork.

 Grass Dance
Grass dancing first began when Elders sent some dancers into the dancing area to stomp down all the long grass to create a clearing so that the other dancers could pass through easily (one story among many). As a result, Grass Dancers usually lead off most ceremonials.  Traditional grass dance movements are much like "grass stomping' because they include stomping and sliding footwork.  In the old days, dancers stuck bunches of sweetgrass into their belts. Later, strips of leather or yarn were incorporated to give an illusion of grass.  Nowadays, long pieces of knitting wool are sewn onto regalia. Grass dancing is one of the older types of dancing with very old songs, specific for grass dancers.  Generally, only the feet can touch the ground.

 Head Dancers 
A designated female and male dancer are appointed to lead all other dancers. This position is one of honour with all other dancers offering the deserved respect. For any given set of songs, no other dancer will dance until the head dancers commence.



Hoop Dance
The Hoop Dance originated with the Hopi in the southwest. There was a time when nature and humans communicated with each other using the same language. The spiritual leaders and/or Medicine people danced an ecstatic dance as they communicated with nature. The modern hoop dance is a celebration of all things in the natural world and the hoops are used to create wondrous images of birds and fish, etc.


Intertribal refers to dances or songs that belong to no one particular tribe. Most intertribal songs do not have words sung in them, but instead have vocables. Intertribal dances have become very popular in this century because they draw larger crowds because they are open to all powwow guests regardless of race.

 Jingle Dress
As with many other types of dancing, the origin of jingle dress dancing has many stories associated with it. This dance comes from the Anishinaabe-speaking people of Ontario, Canada, and the States of Michigan and Minnesota. It is the dance of healing the body, mind, emotions and spirit. It is said that the jingles may also represent waves of water as well as thunder. The sounds of the jingles are for healing and also bring good luck. Whatever the origin, jingle dress dancers are judged on their knowledge of traditional movements and their grace. The jingles on the dresses are made from twisted tin and the dance is very popular among young women and girls. There are usually 365 jingles on a dress to signify the calendar year.

Round Dance
This is a dance of friendship. Everyone joins the circle which signifies the circle of life, that has no beginning and no end. If asked you must join in -- it would be rude to refuse. Everyone holds hands; A song is sung with a heavy 1-2-1 pattern and the dancers move laterally around the arena. They are a lot of fun and usually Round dances are sung in sets of three or four songs.

Smoke Dance
Haudenosaunne dance that is quite fast-paced and emulates people in the smoke-filled longhouse wiping their eyes and fanning the smoke away from the fires.


Men's Traditional
In the early days, when the warriors would return home, they'd would imitate their battles and encounters through dance. Throughout time, men's traditional dance has held a respected and significant role in Native society. The eagle feathers and style in which they wear them tell of their families, clans, feats, and accomplishments. Because of this awesome responsibility, male dancers are looked to as leaders and are highly respected.

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.

Two Step
Haudenosaunee Two-Step is fun for everyone. It is a courting dance. It is a rare dance where a man and woman are allowed to touch. The first couple is always the Head Man and Woman, who are followed by other couples who wish to join whether in regalia or not. The difference in this dance is that the woman asks the man to dance, if he refuses he must give her at least $5.00.  Two-Steps can be quite intricate depending on the leaders and are usually danced to a rhythm much like the Round Dance and in a circle.

Women's Traditional
The value of women in Native society is demonstrated by the honour shown for her role as the giver of life and keeper of home, family and culture. This is one of the oldest and most traditional of the dances. Elegant and dignified, their feet move in time with the drum and represents the heartbeat of mother earth to heal the world. The women raise their eagle feathers to show respect for all living things, and to honour Great Mystery. The dancers give thanks for the foods given to Native people, such as, corn, beans, squash, tomato, potato, turkey, wild rice, turnip, strawberries. Physical grace and knowledge of traditions and songs are signs of a good Women's traditional dancer. Traditional dancers usually wear bone breastplates with beaded buckskin dresses or wool dresses. These fringes are said to symbolize waterfalls, continually flowing, giving life and persevering as was the case with Native mothers. Northern traditional dancers usually dance in one place while Southern traditional dancers usually dance clockwise around the dance arena. 




Flag Song
Song sung to honour the Eagle Staff as well as the Canadian (and United States) Flag(s). Everyone must remain standing and remove their hats as a sign of respect.

Honouring and Honour Songs
Derived from a request for a special song; to honour a person, a Nation, a community, a group, or a special type of dance (eg., Veteran's songs). It is a specific song which is sung to fulfill a request by an individual or a family to highlight and focus attention on individual accomplishments. The song itself, sung by a particular group of singers may be one of tribal, family or individual significance Everyone must stand (remove hats) for an Honour song. 

Veteran's Song
A song specially composed to honour all War Veterans (Indian Wars, WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq) or a single war veteran. Many tribes accord special recognition to their veterans and pay special tribute to the men and women who have served and are serving in the armed forces. (Everyone stands). In Thunderbird's shows, a Veteran's Honour Song is always played, to honour her Lieutenant Colonel brother who is now in his day of quiet.

There are three kinds of Native Songs. (a) sung completely in a Native language; (b) Vocable which is a non-language sound that carries the melody; (c) a combination of a language and vocable (the most common type of song). In this case the vocable are used as fillers, such as "Ah Hey Yah Ho" or "way ya hay." In English, the musical scale of doh, re, mi, fah, soh, lah, ti, doh is a vocable unless you are in the Sound of Music! Often entire songs are written in this way to make learning and singing them easier for people who do not speak the language of the song. A vocable song nonetheless usually has a theme which should be explained.  It gives the song more meaning when singing it to know that it was composed for a reason.

Warm-Up Song
A song specifically called to allow contestants a chance to prepare themselves for the contest song or actual contest event.




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.