Pay Attention and Listen. The MC (master of ceremonies) can be heard via the sound system. Listen to what he says. He is coordinating the powwow and advises the visitors of additional protocol. Non-natives are welcome at powwow celebrations to learn and share in the cultural and social traditions but are expected to show respect and understanding for these events.
Never Refer To A Native American Dancer’s Regalia As a Costume! A dancer’s regalia may also be called their outfit. These beautifully handcrafted outfits are not costumes. Much thought, time, energy and expense goes into the making of each outfit. Often pieces of the regalia are family heirlooms. Regalia is created by the dancer or by a respected family member or friend. The feathers in particular are sacred and highly valued and cared for. The beadwork may take a very long time to complete. Sometimes years have gone into the final completion of a dancer’s regalia. Some dancers have several different outfits, often changing 2 or 3 times during a powwow.
Never Touch A Native American Dancer’s Regalia. Again, respect, respect, respect! A dancer told me once he felt a tugging at his back and to his dismay, a woman had a hold of one of the eagle feathers of his traditional bustle! She kept pulling and saying she wanted one! If you feel the need to touch, always ask permission, and be gentle and considerate. Respect the personal space of dancers as you should for anyone else. You’l find that most dancers are friendly and will answers your questions about their regalia.
Use Courtesy and Respect When Photographing. The majority of Native American powwows are public events and taking pictures of the dancers during inter-tribal or during dance competition is usually acceptable. The MC will let you know when it will be absolutely not acceptable to take photographs. However, if you want a dancer to pose for you outside the arbor, always introduce yourself and ask permission. If you are a professional photographer or artist and feel you may use the image in the future for a commercial project, tell the dancer. Make sure it is OK with him or her and the safest bet is to ask if they will sign a model’s release. Even if the photos are only for your personal use and not commercial, offer to send the dancer copies. They are usually happy to give you a mailing address so that you may send them photos.
Do Not Enter The Dance Arbor After It Has Been Blessed. At the beginning of the powwow festivities, the Dance Arbor is blessed. Walking or running into the Arbor is prohibited. The only time guests may enter the Arbor is to participate during Intertribal Dances, Round Dances, Blanket Dances, Potato Dances or during an Honoring dance that the MC may announce. Don’t cut across the Arbor just to get to the other side!
Stand During Grand Entry. The MC will announce the beginning of Grand Entry and will ask everyone to stand. The Native American Eagle Staff and American Flag will be brought into the dance arbor and you should remain standing during the Flag Song and the Invocation. The same is asked during the Veterans Songs and Closing Songs and when the Staff and Flags are taken out of the Arbor. Men should remove their hats during these times.
Do Not Sit On Any Chairs Under the Dance Arbor. The seating under the Dance Arbor is reserved for the dancers, drums and other powwow participants. It’s a good idea to bring folding chairs to a powwow and set them up just behind the outer area of the Arbor. Throwing a blanket over your chair marks it as belonging to someone. Unless you’ve been invited to sit under the Arbor, please respect the sitting provided for participants, especially those chairs covered with a blanket or shawl! Often special areas are designated for elders and disabled individuals, whether native or non-native. If you see space in the seating area, ask if you may place your chair there to sit.
Never Record a Native American Drum Without Permission Of The Head Singer. Ask to tape songs. The MC may also announce that no recording or photographs take place during certain songs. Frequently people do stand around drums and tape without permission without any consequences. But it shows respect and consideration to ask permission first.
No Alcohol Or Drugs Permitted At Powwows. Today’s Native American powwows are alcohol and drug free environments. Many support AA activities and roll call. Any one found under the influence or in the possession of drugs will be immediately escorted off the powwow grounds.
Respect Everyone, Non-Native and Native, Especially Elders. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Look out for the children. Treat others as you would expect to be treated.
Finally, Have A Good Time! Above anything else, Native American powwows are social events. A time to see old friends and make new ones. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and engage in conversation with vendors, dancers, singers and other powwow participants. Enjoy yourself and have a great time!