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Overview of Pow Wow Tradition

For many First Nations people across North America, the Pow Wow has become an expression of First Nations identity. For First Nations people in Saskatchewan, it is also a statement of our ability to survive as a people. The Pow Wow in Saskatchewan is an ancient tradition. Pow Wow dancing conveys important traditional teachings. One teaching is that dancers dance not only for themselves but also for all First Nations people. They dance for the sick, the Elderly and those who cannot dance.
In the early years, many First Nations people continued to attend these ceremonial dances despite threats from government. Prior to World War 1, First Nations people were only allowed to dress up in their traditional outfits for exhibitions and parades. Special permission had to be granted by the federal government to allow these demonstrations. But these events did play a role in retaining the Pow Wow tradition in the prairies. It wasn’t until 1951, with further changes to the Indian Act, that the Pow Wow could be held without interference. The Pow Wow tradition in Saskatchewan had a tremendous resurgence since the 1960’s. The Plains Cree refer to the Pow Wow as pwatsimowin or “the Dakota Dance”. Saskatchewan First Nations people have adopted the modern Pow Wow into their way of life. Important influences for Saskatchewan Pow Wows were the growth of major celebrations hosted by Native American reservations in the United States.
Contemporary Pow Wows are either traditional or competition Pow Wows. Traditional Pow Wows are often held in local communities and lack the dancing and drum group competitions. In the past, communities would pick their best dancers or singers to compete for desired objects such as blankets, horses or dance regalia. Today, dancers and singers compete for cash prizes. Some dancers earn their living from these competitions and from the making of Pow Wow regalia. Some competition dancers stay in shape through exercise regimens and diligent practice.
One important aspect of Pow Wows is the honouring of our First Nations Veterans. Veterans are asked to carry flags in the Grand Entry, to retrieve dropped Eagle feathers and to provide prayers throughout the event. The honouring of our Veterans is a reflection of the First Nations place of their service. The Veterans’ willingness to give their lives in the service of others merits our highest respect. This honouring of the Veterans is also reflective of the warrior tradition of First Nations. (Cultural Teachings: First Nations Protocols and Methodologies pp 25-6).

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