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An Elder's View Of Powwow

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1997      SPECIAL POWWOW ISSUE v27 n02 p06  
Senator Bill Standingready
Senator Bill Standingready
Senator Bill Standingready of the Whitebear First Nation has been a Senator of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations for 15 years. Before being appointed to this position, Senator Standingready was Chief of the Whitebear First Nation for 20 years.

Senator Standingready recently discussed the protocol of long ago powwows with Saskatchewan Indian. He touched on singing, songs, dancing and, finally, money.

According to Senator Standingready, Whitebear First Nation had powwows every weekend. It was easy to do this, he said, because Whitebear had four drums on its reserve. As time moved on, there became three established powwows which people would attend. These powwows are Standing Buffalo, Sioux Valley and Whitebear.

Senator Standingready said that powwow was not hard to start for these three groups because of the background of the reserves and the fact that they lived close to the USA border.

As for the northern people, they had their own dance which was known as the Veterans Dance (macisimowin). As the veterans would return from war, families would show their gratitude by celebrating the return of their warriors. This type of celebration would last for about one week.

Powwow songs of old were as beautiful to listen to as they are now said Senator Standingready. He knows this from first hand experience as Senator Standingready is a singer himself. He was taught to sing by his parents and was initiated into the powwow circle.

Songs long ago had words in them. People who made songs sang about whatever they wanted. Today, when Senator Standingready goes to powwows, he hears some of these old songs, plus a lot of new ones. Although there are many new songs, some of which are fancied up, they are still traditional, original-style songs. There should be no distinction of songs. Long ago, the old people did not do that.

Senator Standingready believes that people should not be part of the drum until they are 16 or 17 years old. The reason for this is that children can get hurt from the spirits surrounding the drum or from one of the singers using their dreams to do so. There are enough older people to carry on the singing, he said, and these young people will have their chance.

Initiations are very important to do before a dancer starts dancing. One should pay what he or she can to be part of this circle. It is the parents that should do this for their children. All parents should do this. During the initiation, an Elder will pray that the child is looked after during his time of dance. After the initiation, that person should not be scared to go anywhere and dance.

"There is always this talk about money at powwows, and I hear many people say that money changes the sacredness of the powwow. I don't believe this," Senator Standingready said. "I think that it is a good thing for money to be involved because this is what helps people to travel as far as they can to support other First Nations across Canada and the United States. But, it is important that people understand why money is being involved and to respect it." "The other purpose money serves at a powwow is to attract the good dancers and singers to the powwow," said Senator Standingready. "One should look at the arrival of dancers from all over the country as a blessing."

It is important that we get the Elders views on issues such as this, because it is what helps to set the story straight and get the originality and tradition of powwow flowing the right way once again.