The Pow Wow Trail stretches from the southern United States, north to James Bay and all the way across the ocean to Germany. Yes, Germany. Where blond, blue-eyed Aryan men, women and children assemble in the countryside and set up teepees and light fires, braid their hair, put on their finest buckskin outfits, call each other names like Helmut White Thunder, Fritz Blue Water and dance around the drum. But that’s a story for another day.
Our story begins in Toronto, under the tallest self supporting structure in the world inside the SkyDome. Just blocks away from the longest street in the world, incidentally. This was the sight of the second annual Toronto International Pow Wow where an estimated 1000 of the finest dancers and drummers in North America gathered for a two day “Celebration of Native Youth”
The time was early May and many came. Some from Arizona. Even some from as far away as Wemindji. A few hipsters showed up from Queen Street, a mere four blocks away. Elijah Harper was spotted taking in the festivities. A few were spyed cooling off with a couple cold ones in the Hard Rock Cafe a few floors above the astroturfed dance circle. I was spotted snapping photos by a friend on the video screen which towered above the field. The luckier of the spectators watched the proceedings in the comfort of their 150 dollars a night hotel suites. We hissed jealously. People laughed and cheered when Shingoose sang of Elijah’s struggles to the tune of Hank Williams’ “Kawliga”. And cheered some more when Brian Black Thunder looking more like Brian Davey crooned. And cheered again when Lawrence “Wapistan” Martin belted out a few numbers, closing the contemporary music portion of the show.
An escalator ride away, a film documentary titled Urban Elder was shown. Beside it, an exhibition of native images by Ontario photographer Patrick Wey. In between the dance competitions, designing group, Seventh Sign displayed their collection. One girl models a black outfit made completely from recycled materials, including electrical tape. Men drooled over one girl dressed in a dress more revealing than the loincloths they wear in Germany. Someone asked, “What is it with native people and fashion?” Zeb wasn’t there to enlighten him.
The ubiquitous merchants patiently served their customers and haggled over their wares like pros. Someone asked, “When are they gonna open the roof?” Another replied, “It costs six thousand dollars to open that thing. And that screen there costs even more to run.” They went ahead and opened the roof at the end of the pow wow but I missed it as I had to go home and get rested for the 19th Annual Odawa Pow Wow in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata.
My first visit to Kanata was twelve years ago and not much has changed since then except the turnout It looks as if it has more than quadrupled since then. The Indian tacos still taste as good. So does the lemonade. They also have a dancer from Chisasibi competing now. Josie Cox. The next day a photo of him dancing makes it into the Sunday edition of The Citizen. During the Honour Song for native war veterans an eagle delights the crowd when it passes high over the circle slowly and finally disappears in the clouds. At the campgrounds Cree families are making Sigabon from this spring’s goose hunt In the afternoon it begins to rain and the dancers hold out for as long as the can. They finally surrender to the rain and move the competition to a nearby arena. Its not the same so I go and beg for some Sigabon and head back home looking forward to Kahnawake’s upcoming Pow Wow.
Pow Wow Trail ’95 June 17 & 18 Kitchener-Waterloo Pow Wow Info: (519) 744-9592 June 17 & 18 Sheshegwaning 3rd Annual Pow Wow Info: (705) 283-3292 June 24 & 25 13th Annual N’Swakamok Traditional Pow Wow Friendship Centre Land Hwy. 537 from Hwy. 17 or 69 Info: (705) 674-2128 June 24 & 25 Chippewas of Sarnia 34th Annual Pow Wow Info: (519) 336-8410 June 24 & 25 Fort William First Nation Pow Wow Info: (807) 623-9543 July 1 & 2 N’Amerind’s 2nd Annual Traditional Gathering Upper Thames Conservation Area Fanshawe Park Info: (519) 672-0131 July 8 & 9 Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow Kahnawake Info: (514) 632-8667 July 8 & 9 5th Annual Kanehsatake Traditional Pow Wow Kanehsatake Ancestral Pines Route 344 West, Oka Info: (514) 479-8321 July 8 & 9 Kettle & Stoney First Nation Pow Wow Info: (519) 876-6680 July 15 & 16 Temagami First Nation Pow Wow Bear Island, Ontario Info: (705) 237-8980 July 15 & 16 Lake Helen Pow Wow Nipigon, Ontario Info: (807)887-1091 (Judy) Aug. 4, 5 & 6 Pays Plat First Nation Pow Wow Info: (807) 824-2541 Aug. 5, 6 & 7 Wikwemikong 35th Annual Pow Wow Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island Hwy. 17 & Hwy. 6 from Ottawa Aug. 11, 12 & 13 Amical Aboriginal Pow Wow Ste-Victoire-de-Sorel, near Montreal Info: (819) 565-7832 (Roland) Aug. 19 & 20 Algonquins of Golden Lake Pow Wow Info: (613) 625-2800 The “Pow Wow”
HEAD PEOPLE: To be selected as one of the “Head People” is a high honour. The Head People are selected not only for ability but for personal qualities, actions and how they treat other people.
HEAD MAN & HEAD LADY DANCER: This is also a high honour. These two dancers guide and direct the dancing throughout the Pow Wow. They are the first to begin dancing on each song. Other dancers wait in respect until the head man and head lady begin dancing.
HEAD SINGER: This is another high honour. The head singer must know all the songs to be sung. The head singer is selected to lead the singing. The head singer either starts the drumming/singing or selects another “lead” singer to begin the song. All other singers/ drummers must wait for the signal for them to join in.
THE DRUM: The drum is much more than a musical instrument to the Indian. It is sacred. It is a very special tie to the traditional Indian way of life. It should be cared for in a certain prescribed manner. All singers must know the strict and exacting protocol to be observed while seated at the drum. You may note that drummers observe strict etiquette/rules. The drum sets the rhythm of the dance and tempo of the song. There are two types of drums used at most Pow Wows. One is a traditional drum made by stretching hides over a frame, and lacing the hides together with leather raw hide thong. The other kink is more common, a regular band bass drum. Both drums are accorded the highest respect by all tribes as a most important part of any Pow Wow.
SONGS AND DANCES: WAR DANCE: There are many types of war dances. In early times, the ceremonial dance called “haylushka” was restricted to warriors, and only the best dancers were chosen to participate. Today, the war dance is a victory dance among the plains. It is purely social and is enjoyed by all who care to participate. It is a dignified dance, rather than a violent dance as is commonly supposed.
ROUND DANCE: This is a social dance. Dancers move in rows of circles clockwise around the drum in a side step, with the faster moving line in the middle close to the drum. The entire line moves as one body, each in harmony to the rhythm of the drum.
RABBIT DANCE/TWO STEP: These are two of the few dances where men and women dance as partners. The “Rabbit Dance” comes from northern tribes such as the Sioux. The Two-Step is an adaptation of the Rabbit Dance. Women chose their partners. Couples, holding hands, circle the drum, stepping off with left foot and dragging the right up with it in time to loud-soft drum beats. In earlier times, if a man refused to dance, he had to “pay” (money or craft item) to the asker.
FLAG SONG: In recent years, nearly every tribe has composed a flag song, dedicated to the men and women who have served in the armed forces in various wars. These flag songs are the Indian equivalent of the national anthem. There is no dancing to this song, but all stand in respect (Certain women whose father, brother or son is a combat veteran may traditional dance in place.) The flag song is sung at the beginning of most Indian activities.
HONOUR SONGS: Honour songs are special songs to honour a particular person or persons. It is customary to stand in silence to show respect when an honour song is sung. Honour songs are always announced before they are sung at Pow Wows.
MEN’S STRAIGHT OR TRADITIONAL DANCE: Looking over the dance arena, notice a very different type of costuming and dance style. The straight or traditional dancer stays more in traditional dance style, and expresses his own individuality by combining both contemporary and traditional styles in costuming.
Although dance style varies depending on the individual, on tribal and/or regional ties, there are certain items of apparel which are common among most straight dancers.
> Fur cap, with decorations of beads, or silver decoration > Cloth or skin leggings, breech cloth, trailer and dragger are decorated with very intricate ribbonwork and beadwork.
> Bandolier beads worn across chest made of glass, bone, bra and many other beads or beadlike objects.
> Dragger, long narrow strip of otter hide hanging from dancer’s neck down his back to the floor (ground). The otter is the most highly prized hide for the “dragger” because of the speed of the otter.
> Bella – very few will still use the old style of deer hoofs around the knees or ankles.
The straight or traditional dancer does not erupt into the energetic fast pace of the fancy dancer. Rather he executes a very graceful, difnified dance more closely resembling dance style of early days.
MEN’S FANCY DANCE: A modern dance outfit with its roots in the old grass dance. This is a modern expression of Indian people combining the colourful costuming and fast pace of today with the traditions of yesterday.
> Hair roach – item worn on the head of most dancers, usually made of deer tail and procupine guard hair Bells (sheep) help maintain the rhythm of the dance.
Bustles – arrangements of feathers worn on the neck and back of fancy dancers. The basic part of the bustles is the feather. These were, at one time, eagle feathers. Today, many are made of white or dark turkey feathers decorated with small colourful feathers called hacides. In addition to the bustles of the fancy dancer, another noticeable part of costuming is the elaborate beadwork. Many dancers strive to have all matching beadwork.