The term powwow is the white man’s version of the Indian word “pau-wau” which originally stood for a healing ceremony conducted by the spiritual or religious leaders of various tribes.  When the white man started settling around Native American lands, they witnessed these powwows.  Soon, the “powwow” term referred to any type of Indian gathering, regardless of its purpose. 


How the powwow got its exact start is not known, but it was thought to have originated with the Pawnee tribe as a religious ceremonial meeting, filled with dancing and other rituals.  Other Indian tribes adopted the practice of the powwow and added their own traditions.  Indians held these ceremonies to celebrate a successful hunt and to thanks the spirits for a bountiful harvest.  Powwows also spiritually prepared a warrior for an impending battle. 

Native Americans were big believers in all things living and spiritual and viewed life and death as an inevitable circle. Some of the powwow ceremonies they conducted celebrated this circle with tribal drums, dancing, food, chanting and traditional healing rituals.  They acted out ancient stories handed through the generations, which kept their history alive. 


Today, the powwow tradition is still alive.  Usually centered on the changing seasons, you can find powwow ceremonies located near areas with a large concentration of Native American tribes.  In addition, there are some powwows that travel around the country providing educational lessons of the Native American culture. More of a festival-type of feel today, the powwow has the traditional dances as well as various religious ceremonies re-enacted for the general public. In addition, you can find Native American arts and crafts as well as food items and other wares for sale. 


In the old days, the powwow was tribal specific and no women were allowed to actively participate.  However, because the number of Native Americans has dwindled, different tribes often collaborate together to put on a powwow to share in each other’s heritage not only amongst themselves but also the general public as well. In addition, Indian women are now an accepted part of the powwow tradition.


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What is a Powwow?