Pow Wow Etiquette

Native American Pow Wow

A pow wow (term often used in North America) refers to a social gathering/social celebration for Native American tribes. Many times these pow wows contain competitions for dancing and singing, can sometimes be intertribal, and are often open to the general public. But there are some important rules/etiquette to follow should you choose to participate!

Are photos/videos appropriate?

Always ask to take photos and videos beforehand! Some dances and performances are considered rude to film, not to mention not everyone prefers to be filmed. So always ask! The MC will normally tell you when to rise, sit, and when you are also allowed to photograph (and when not to). i.e.- no photos during prayer, when a performer is receiving feather/plume, and sometimes even beadwork because many can steal or appropriate the designs.

What are dance circles?

The frontmost rows closest to the dance circle are actually reserved for dancers, staff, and performers, so it is always best to stand or sit towards the middle or back rows. Next, always stand for the grand entrance! This is when performers make their entrance and it is extremely important to stand and show respect. There will be times when cheering for the dancers is considered rude or distracting, so it is best to remain relatively quiet unless given the okay by the MC! Being that pow wows often differ from community to community, the MC will always be directing and aiding people in knowing what to do.

Are there any prohibited items?

No alcohol, no smoking, no firearms. Tobacco by itself however is actually often exchanged as a gift. 

What else should I know?

Come with a good attitude! These events are very energetic and lively, and in some communities it is believed that you shouldn’t dance with negative energy because it can spread around to others. 

Learn about the tribes/nations that visit! Many pow wows can be multi-tribal/national and many come to compete in contests. Sometimes there will be other booths or parts of the pow wow dedicated towards teaching about the local tribes and customs.

Bring your own foldable chair or blankets to sit on! Not all pow wows have extra seating besides the benches for performers, so best bring your own. Possibly some snacks or food as well. Typically there are booths for food, but should you have allergies or sensitivities, come prepared! Also, bring some cash because many vendors will sell beadwork, food, herbs/medicines, or even have places/people to donate to!

Hope Ryle

Hope Ryle

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