The Pow Wow Etiquette: In Conversation with Deanne Hupfield
"It's all about the land." - Deanne Hupfield
Pow Wows are an amazing place to experience the diverse culture of native tribes through the art of dancing, food, singing and crafts. Most of us, at least, have a general idea or understanding of the sacred gathering carried out through an array of activities. It’s a beautiful celebration that continues to fight colonization and demonstrates resilience by maintaining a connection to important Indigenous traditions and people. But for a new visitor, let’s recognize that immersing yourself for the first time can be overwhelming and intimidating.
Let’s learn together. As the Social Media Manager & Content Creator at Cheekbone Beauty (I write our monthly blogs, hi there!), I identify as an Indigenous person thanks to my mother’s side of the family, but grew up in a suburban environment with little access to the culture. That being said, I’ve never been to a Pow Wow. Coming from a place of learning, not only do I love working at Cheekbone Beauty to experience personal growth, but to see our community collectively learning, discovering, and sharing their own identities too. It’s quite the journey to learn about your heritage, explore your identity, and see the world from a different perspective.
Join us as we sit down with incredible speaker, educator and dancer Deanne Hupfield to learn her story and how new visitors can feel welcome at their first Pow Wow. Deanne Hupfield is a strong, down-to-earth Anishinaabe woman from Thunder Bay who’s taught thousands of students on how to make Regalia over the course of 20 years! If you're curious about attending your first Pow Wow, keep reading below and allow Deanne to educate us!
Let’s start by defining a Pow Wow. What is it, and what is it not?
A Pow Wow is a celebration of Indigenous culture and traditions through dance, music, food, stories, and crafts. It’s a time to come together as communities, make new relationships and practice traditions. They happen all over North America and vary in style. Hawaii has them too. Please be mindful when using the word Pow Wow, it carries a lot of meaning for us. It’s inappropriate to label a Pow Wow as a casual get together or business meeting. For me personally, it’s about healing, feeling beautiful, and empowered.
Why is the Pow Wow significant to you?
To start, my mom was part of the Sixties Scoop. For those who are unfamiliar, the Scoop gave away Indigenous children to non-Indigenous homes, forcing them to strip away from their cultural identity. They would even have ads in newspapers to get your Indian baby. These children were sent all over the US, Canada, Europe. In my mom’s case, she grew up in foster homes - Having lived in 17 different foster homes in 10 years.
I attended my first Pow Wow at about 7 years old. Did some history with the community around that time. It was taking place at Fort Gardens in Thunder Bay, and I remember hearing the music and holding my mom’s hand. I saw people dancing all around, and a beautiful woman spinning and dancing. It was the Jingle Dress Dance. I asked my mom if I could learn to dance too, but she didn’t know how and told me to follow the woman's footsteps. As a victim of generational trauma, the dance is an expression of our identity and a place for healing.
What is a ‘Jingle Dress’?
Growing up, I was taught that the origin of the dress came from the Anishinaabe around the time of the Spanish flu. The jingle dress was brought to life from a dream about women dancing with little metal cones sewn onto their outfits, dancing straight. Each woman wearing a different colour, the little tins sounded beautiful, like rain when they danced. Since it was brought to life, the sacred dress is celebrated for its healing power. If you want to become a jingle dress dancer, you have to listen to the stories and you have to dream about it. You have to be Indigenous to make regalia and dance at a Pow Wow, but anyone can learn the steps. Today, the beautiful dress is shared across all nations! When creating the dress, it is important to make the dress from a good place. It’s a process.
Can anyone, no matter your ethnic background, attend a Pow Wow?
Yes! Pow Wows are open to everyone and anyone. We want you to come. The Master of Ceremony’s job is to make everyone feel welcome and guide all attendees throughout the event. Just by going you’ll hear and learn so much. Instructions and scheduling are also provided by the MC. I met Jenn at a Pow Wow back in 2017 or 2018, where she and I both had a little table set up!
As a first time visitor, what do I need to know so I can be respectful?
Wear a long skirt! Many of the traditional teachings continue to enforce and honour ribbon skirts. As a woman, wearing a skirt demonstrates respect to the people and community you’re in. Reciprocity plays an extremely important role at Pow Wows. If you’re new to a Pow Wow, enter the grounds ready to share with others, take turns learning from one another, and engage in reciprocal actions. Ask permission to take photos first! If they’re willing, remember to give thanks either through a water bottle or some coffee money. No alcohol on the grounds. As a celebration of life and community, giving a gift helps prosper the relationship of reciprocity. Also, as beautiful as they are, please do not touch an Indigenous person’s hair or dress.
What does a day at a Pow Wow look like?
Make sure to arrive by Saturday at noon for the Grand Entry! You usually just show up at the door for entry. The celebration begins with the Grand Entry song, followed by the flag song and the veteran song. The Grand Entry acknowledges and honours our flags and veterans, head dancers, and why they’re doing the event. After the Grand Entry follows the intertribal, where everyone is invited to dance! The intertribal encourages the hybridization of dance and music from all tribes and backgrounds, everyone is welcome to participate. During the afternoon, we also have what we call the ‘Tiny Tots’ song - where the children under 6 share their dance with the crowd.
At around 5PM everyone breaks for dinner and spends time at the food vendors. A common fast food treat is the Indian taco! A piece of fried bread with taco meat, lettuce, tomato...among other toppings. You may also find fried bread with balogna to be popular, as it’s a comfort food from the Ojibwe territory. For a healthier option try Hiawatha Catering, offering both traditional and top quality dishes. At 7PM begins a second Grand Entry. It’s pretty much the exact same thing, but now including lots of competitions with judges where the dancers compete for cash prizes. Dancers all have the same step, but judges score on your beadwork, dress, and unique dance style. It's all about the land, and depending on where you’re from Pow Wows vary in size and styles.
What is your favourite Pow Wow memory to date?
Watching the jingle dress dancers is my all-time favourite, but I have also loved competing in Fancy Shawl dancing lately. It’s all about the community and building kinship systems.
How long has the Pow Wow been around?
There are variations about the origin of the Pow Wow, but it is said The Plains community created the dance in the late 1800s to early 1900s. So, it’s been around for about 150 years, but not every community practiced the dance back then.
Has the tradition of the Pow Wow evolved over the years? Where do you see it heading in the next 20 years?
Pow Wow dancing is a contemporary way Indigenous communities come together to practice their traditions. We have always had song and dance as a part of our way of life. This is where we pass down traditional knowledge to our children. There are ceremonies and healing that happen at the event. It’s a safe place where we can fully be in our community and practice our sacred songs and dances. This is so important because so many Indigenous people have had their culture taken from them through Indian Residential Schools and Sixties Scoop.
In the next 20 years, I see more Indigenous people reclaiming the Pow Wow culture. It's truly a place of Indigenous excellence, of Indigenous scholars. Even as it evolves, it’s always been a safe place to be together and empower one another. New dance styles will evolve over time.
You can download your free copy of “5 Steps to Becoming a Powwow Dancer” from Deanne’s website at www.deannehupfield.com