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Pow-Wow Season - What Is Old Becomes New Again

Martha Ironstar

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1993      v22 n04 p08  
Pow-wow season is fast approaching and as the wheel of the seasons turn, it is a time for Indian nations to join in dancing, singing and renewing old friendships. People who are traditionalists may frown upon powwows because they have become so commercialized. On the other hand, some people spend their entire summers attending them. No one can ever reach a consensus as to what they actually are. It is safe to say that it is a time to renew thoughts of the old ways and to preserve a rich and colourful heritage.

Today's celebrations are a descendant of summer tribal gatherings where ceremonies were performed by medicine societies and political decisions were made.

Currently there are rarely any religious ceremonies at the powwow, although the old ones express their views and offer good advice. Subjects include respecting the earth, preserving the tradition, or even how to raise and teach children. I have once heard a head lady dancer talk about the ruined environment, her opposition to clear cutting and how capitalists have stooped so low to reach so high.

The singers and dancers carry an important role in maintaining the traditions, original songs and stories through movements.

Today few dancers achieve the story telling gifts of the old ways. Pow-wow dancing and singing has become more "sociable" and reflects the life of modern times. This includes dancing outfits of neon colours.

Although they are not by any means traditional, they are eye catching and colourful.

When different nations gather for a Pow-wow they sometimes share their songs. Changes would be made so singers of different tribes could join in. With these changes, came the use of "vocables" to replace the words of the old songs. Many old songs have fallen into disuse and are lost because of the vocables. Special meaning is still held by the ones who know the song. The majority of powwow songs today are still sung in the Indian language and are newly composed or revivals of old songs.