Celebrations of American Indigenous People
Space Coast Edition

By Christine K. Rex

Native American peoples have populated the Space Coast for hundreds of years before the white-man ever came to Florida. American indigenous populations are scattered all across the continent as well and have hung on to their traditions while becoming assimilated into modern society. To celebrate their roots Native Americans all across the country gather for what is called a Pow Wow. Pow Wow’s are held over many parts of Florida as well as across the rest of the United States and Canada. I myself, recently had the pleasure of attending one of these colorful and meaningful gatherings with my cousin who was able to prove her Cherokee background and became a recognized card carrying American Indian.

The syncopated drums and singing brings dancers into the circle to show off their style of dancing and finery called "Regalia" It seems so easy to get caught up in the moment and the need to join in with the dancers becomes hypnotic. I am told all are welcome in certain dances.

"Being in the powwow arena, singing, or watching gives most of us a wonderful feeling. It's a certain kind of happiness that cannot be described. The Nations of people who were enemies shake hands and smile. Powwows are inter-tribal, people from all Nations are together, laughing and sharing."

The grounds are filled with craftsman and vendors selling all and anything a heart could desire in the way of Native American crafts. Campfires burn and demonstrations are held to show how the ancestors of the different tribes daily lives were filled with tasks for the care and feeding of the group. Demonstrations of ancient dances are a part of the daily program at a Pow Wow.

In the program a special group of Aztec Dancers were the most impressive with their vibrantly feathered Regalia. The Aztec Dancers are a group of professional dancers who travel far and wide demonstrating the ancient dances of their ancestors at Pow Wows all across the country. One of the dances shown at the Melbourne, Florida Pow Wow by this group began with the heavily beating drums and the lighting of a smudge pot to begin a dance called the smoke dance. The dancer squatted low over the smudge pot and took the flame only into his hand and held it to the heavens and bowed to the four directions to honor his ancestors. He wore a very large be-feathered headdress that contained the long tail feathers of a pheasant. Strangely the headdress is called a roach. Many feathers and shiny fabrics made up the rest of his Regalia.


History of the Pow Wow

The word Pow Wow, or pau wau, means a gathering of people coming together to trade. Explorers misinterpreted the ceremony of medicine men dancing, thinking all natives gathered to sing and dance in this manner.

The modern day Pow Wow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early 1800's. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to re-inact their brave deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.

The growth of reservations gave rise to the modern Pow Wow. This was a time of transition for Native peoples across North America. Tribal customs and religions were outlawed. The Grass Dance was one of the few celebrations that was allowed into this new era. The Grass Dance became an opportunity to maintain some of the earlier tribal customs that were vanishing. As other communities and tribes were invited to these celebrations, rights of ownership of sacred items necessary to the Grass Dance were formally transferred from one tribe to another. "Inter-tribalism" began to emerge with the sharing of these songs and dances. Gift-giving and generosity were integral aspects of

these early festivities, as they still are today.

The tradition of First Nations dance is ancient. Originally, some dances were performed before the warriors left the tribe to hunt, raid, or do battle. While the men were away, the ladies would prepare their best buckskin dresses and accessories to wear on anticipation of the party's return. This was to show honor and pride for their men. Dances were also performed when they returned, to celebrate their success. As the men arrived into the camp, the women would stand in rows, yelling and trilling for their warrior.

This is the origin of the old style of women's Traditional Dance; standing in one place, keeping time with the drum by moving their feet up and down.

Pow Wow elders have been told by their grandfathers and grandmothers that the men did most of the dancing, only in recent decades have the women been accepted to dance among the men in the sacred circle.

Upon contact with the Europeans, most native cultures were holding pow wows, or gatherings of celebration less and less. The pow wow is a time for renewing old friendships and making new ones. Wars were put aside to celebrate in unison. Trappers and native designers were welcome to set up their ware for the dancers wanting to purchase material and accessories to design their regalia; as it is a great pride to design your own outfit.

Today, the pow wow circuit is strong and more alive than ever before. Throughout the year, in cities, towns, villages and reservations; men, women and children of all ages gather together to celebrate the traditions, heritage, and culture of the pow wow.

The modern day Pow Wow bases itself on the fundamental values common to Native Americans throughout North America: honor, respect, tradition, and generosity. Along with their families, thousands of singers, dancers, artists, and craftspeople follow the "Pow Wow Trail" all over the continent to share and celebrate our culture.

The modern Pow Wow has retained its traditional roots while incorporating the inheritances of an ever-changing world. This melding of the old ways with the new results in an exciting celebration that can be enjoyed by all.

Pow Wows today are a gathering of North American First Nations people who join in dancing, singing, visiting old friends and making new friends. The Pow Wow celebration is a time of preserving a rich heritage and keeping the traditional ways alive. Originally held in the spring to celebrate a new beginning of life, Pow Wows have spiritual significance. Even though most of the spiritual ceremonies for dropped eagle feather still remain today.

Each session of the Pow Wow begins with a Grand Entry where the dancers in their regalia enter the sacred circle (arbor) in single file, dancing their particular dance style. Leading the Grand Entry are the flag bearers, carrying the Canadian and American Flags, Traditional Eagle Staff (Native Flag), and the flags of other participating nations. Following the Flag Bearers are the members of the Pow Wow Royalty.

The Men's Traditional dancers - protectors and preservers of the traditional ways; with their double eagle feather bustles and their high kicking steps. Next are the Men's Fancy dancers, recognized by their colorful regalia. The Men's Grass dancers with their striking outfits covered with long, colorful fringes follow. Their dance movements are a sliding, shaking, and spinning motion, similar to long grass blowing in the wind. Teens, juniors and Tiny tots follow in their respective categories.

Following the male dancers are the Women's Traditional dancers, who dance in a stately and poised manner, moving slowly and gracefully to the beat of the drum, dressed in elaborately decorated regalia with Eagle plumes worn on the back of the head and an Eagle fan in the right hand.

Next are the Women's Fancy dancers, whose long, graceful fringed shawls are draped over the shoulders. Their twirling rapid dance steps compliment the flaring shawls. The Women's Jingle dancers follow, originally from the Objibwa Nation. This dance is recognized as a healing dance. The dress is covered with tin cones (made from snuff tin covers) and bouncy dance steps create rhythmic jingling in time of the beat of the drum. Again, teens, juniors and tiny tots follow in their respective categories.

After all the dancers are in the arbor, a flag song is sung, then a victory song. The flag bearers then proceed with the flags to the front of the arbor. After Grand Entry an opening prayer will be offered in a native language or in English. This is done out of respect for the flags and our traditional ways. It is very important for spectators to rise and remove their hats during the prayer. After the prayer, the opening song starts the Pow Wow. Now the time to enjoy the Pow Wow has arrived.

Going back to the early days of the fur trade, the Pow Wow tradition is an integral part of First Nations Culture and the history of Canada. Pow Wow celebrations are an invaluable experience that will enable all participants to better understand the important part traditions play, and how these traditions define indigenous culture.

Pow Wow participants and spectators must abstain from drugs and alcohol and demonstrate sincere respect for older and younger generations. Dancers will participate in four separate categories: Traditional, Fancy, Grass and Jingle.

Over 300 First Nations groups from all over North America have been invited to participate in the Annual Pow Wow. Over 100 dancers are often in attendance each day of the Pow Wow. In addition to the traditional dancing, drums, and Princess Pageant, other events and activities include craft and food booths, traditional bannock, pancake breakfasts, various draws and raffles, and a souvenir program book.

From this experience I came away with a new respect for the Nations first citizens. There are those who say the old days were filled with barberry and hate for the white man by the Indians and the Indians for the white man. But I think it all has to do with ones perspective on the issue. Did we not take away their lands and suffer them to exist on little or nothing? Granted, each did barbaric things to one another but I guess I am a "Live and Let Live" type of person. History tends to repeat itself often and I my only wish is for mankind to learn to live side by side. I hope the words contained in this piece helps to clear up some of the misconceptions about our indigenous people who live among us and fight along side us in our struggle to preserve this nation.

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