The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 17, 2013

Bob Garrett's No Child Left Indoors column: Power of the pow wow

Daily Item

---- — "Go into nature to be soothed and healed, to have your senses put in order."

The native people of our area were connected with nature. Some would say that they were "one with nature." They had to be. They could not survive without an inextricable connection to the world around them. One possible tradition that survives to this day from the native people of our valley is the pow wow.

Historically, pow wows were simply the Native American people's way of meeting with one another. To this day, joining together with dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and making new ones is at the core of the modern pow wows. A child who doesn't want to be left indoors might just find Native American culture and the preservation of the rich American Indians' heritage a great way to spend the waning days of summer.

There are many different stories about of how pow wows were started. The prevailing thought is that War Dance Societies of the Ponca and other plains tribes were the genesis of this tradition. If so, pow wowing may be a latter day tradition to the eastern woodland tribes. There's also considerable thought that pow wows were a push back against our federal government as more and more tribes were relegated to reservations.

No matter how they got started, pow wows today are a lot of fun and a great way to spend the day in the out of doors. Next weekend, the Kipona Pow Wow returns to City Island, in the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg. This three-day event opens on Friday evening, Aug. 31 with the grand entry parade and runs through Labor Day on Monday. More than 100 dancers are expected from the Iroquois Nation, Old Bridge and several Order of the Arrow lodges. The Aztec Fire Dancers will be there again this year with their fanciful and fast-paced dance steps.

Drummers will include the Old Bridge Singers and the Mother Earth's Daughters. Some other attractions at the pow wow will be native housing such as long houses and teepees, a primitive encampment, tomahawk throwing contests and many children's activities and crafts. Camping is permitted and feasts will be provided for anyone who participates in the pow wow.

For more information, contact Michelle Fry at 717-589-7744 or by email at Aon Kachi Karrya and Blue Sky Woman will serve as the pow wow head man and head woman. By the way, Kipona is a Delaware word meaning "to be upon sparkling water." I'm intrigued with the comparison of the Seneca word Karoondinha which means "land of shining waters."

If the notion of participating in a pow wow is a bit foreign to you, I've put together a couple of tips to help you, your family and your friends have a wonderful time at your next pow wow. First, relax. I can assure you that you will be among some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. However, pow wows are not Disney World. Most of your fellow "pow wowwers" are likely to be a bit reserved, at first. They will check you out just as much as you check them out. Remember, native peoples have a lot of history with us, it in some cases it hasn't been all good. But, you can put that aside for a while and just have fun.

Pow wows generally begin with the Grand Entry. Originally, this entry served as a parade through the host town and alerted residents that a pow wow was happening. During the Grand Entry, everyone is asked to stand as the flags are brought into the arena. The flags carried may include the U.S. Flag, Tribal Flags, the Prisoner of War Flag, and Eagle Staffs of various native nations that may be present. These are usually carried by decorated veterans. Once everyone is in the pow wow arena, a song is sung to honor the flags and the veterans. After a prayer, the dancing begins, usually with a few round dances. After the round dances, intertribal dancing songs are sung and everyone is invited to dance to the beat of the drum.

Pow wow tips

Do your best to be on time. Pow wows have a certain flow to them and you will get the most enjoyment and understand what's happening if you and your family are there from the beginning of each day.

The appropriate dress for the occasion should be modest. If possible, wear something that is indicative of your own native custom. It's helpful to remember that pow wows are much like a family reunion.

You may see blankets spread out on the bleachers and benches near the dance rings. This is similar to the way that people in our area set out lawn chairs to reserve a spot to watch a parade. If invited to sit on someone else's blanket, by all means, accept the invitation. This is a great tribute to you and your family.

Listen carefully to the Master of Ceremonies. He will announce who is to dance, and when. This will really help you to understand what's happening throughout the pow wow.

Respect the position of the head man and head woman dancers. Their role entitles them to start each song or set of songs. Please wait until they have started to dance before you join in.

Dance as long and as energetically as you can. Have fun. If you're like me and have very limited natural rhythm, just go with the flow, and honor your hosts with your participation. When not dancing, try to be quiet and respectful.

Ask lots of questions. If at any time you are uncertain of procedure or etiquette, please just check with the master of ceremonies, head man or head woman. They will be glad that you asked because it shows your interest in their heritage.

If taking pictures of the dancers, ask first. This is a common courtesy and most people appreciate being asked if taking photos of them is OK.

Leave alcohol or drugs at home. Also, keep your politics to yourself.

Each pow wow is unique. Different groups have different customs and methods of doing things. Pow wows are organized by non-profit committees that work for weeks and months before the event. You may have a chance to financially assist the pow wow through the purchase of souvenirs or donations.