What is Powwow?

Some people hear the word “powwow” and think it’s a gathering of heathens. Savages jumping around wildly in the dirt. I have heard there are people who consider it occult or dark. Neither of these concepts could be farther from the truth. The web site powwows.com offers a brief article describing some of the explanations of powwow at What is a Powwow? The Internet encyclopedia site Wikipedia offers its rather extensive description of Pow-wow .

What’s more important is what it means to an individual that attends. The theories about the origin of the event or the name are irrelevant. Ask anyone who goes regularly. Even for a first-timer, a powwow can be a special moment in life. For the Native American, or Indian, or First Nations, or whatever you want to call us, when we are at powwow, we are renewed. In many ways, powwows for us are like church for other religions. But I think we have more fun.  🙂

My soulmate has a five year old granddaughter. Her heritage includes the Quechan people, who now reside on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation which is mostly in California but stretches slightly across the Colorado River into Arizona, just above the border with Mexico. Her paternal great-grandmother lives there and is approaching her time to cross over. Ten months ago, when my partner moved here, she learned of a powwow coming up in Tollhouse. You’d be hard-pressed to find this community, nestled in the foothills of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains. But it had been too long since my hunny had been to powwow. The opportunity arose and she was able to take her granddaughter, along with my middle daughter, to their first powwow. I wish I had been there. To see the face on a child of four, to see the stirring within of an ancient inspiration. Yes, this is what was described to me. More accurately, “She had a blast!” No, it wasn’t her tribe, it wasn’t her homeland. (Of course, at just under 69 square miles, the reservation in no way represents what the Quechan would consider their homeland.) The point is, at powwow the Spirit knows. The Spirit of a person knows when it is among friends and relatives.

Relatives. There’s a term that means something different to us as well. The Lakota Sioux have a phrase that represents our beliefs succinctly. Mitakuye Oyasin. Translation is a little, um, mushy. English doesn’t exactly convey the meaning, or the feeling, behind those words. All Are Related. For here is where the peoples who inhabited this land long before the arrival of the Europeans differ in their belief. We believe that Creator brought life to everything. We believe that our Mother Earth supports us, gives us life, nurtures and nourishes us. Beyond that, all things around us are living things and deserve our respect. Mother Earth is a living entity. We know this in our hearts. We can feel her heartbeat. We know it at powwow. The drum echoes the heartbeat of our Mother.

One of my favorite phrases from American culture of the last half century has become “tree hugger”. Back in the day, it was a derogatory term for those who expressed concern for the environment and the planet. Now it means something very different for me. For I am a tree hugger. Literally. I can feel the pulse of Mother Earth when my arms are wrapped around a tree. There is a connection that goes deeper and farther than most can imagine. The same is true of the grass. Stand in the grass without covering on your feet and you can feel your way around the land.

All Are Related. We come from the same stuff. We have the same source. We have a common history. We all have a Spirit given us by Creator. Watch the animals. You can see that they do not mindlessly move through their lives. And if you listen carefully, with an open heart, you can hear them. All Are Related. The two-leggeds are making a mess of Mother Earth and only now are beginning to think something needs to be done. It may be too late. For the two-leggeds. Our Relations will go on for they follow the path set before them by Creator. So long as the two-leggeds don’t continue to destroy their homes.

Two-leggeds, four-leggeds, wingeds, swimmers, crawlers. Everyone who reads knows which families those words represent. If I say, however, the standing people and the silent people, is the same true? You may have gotten a clue about the standing people earlier. The trees and plants are the standing people. And if you’ve ever stood in a forest or a grove, you know they are not silent. It is said that you should never tell your secrets in the presence of trees, for they will spread that secret. A breeze or wind will rise that they can share amongst themselves and eventually to one who may use it against you. I find it best to keep no secrets. Then speaking with trees carries only peace. Who then are the silent people? They are becoming more and more difficult to find, at least in America. Rocks! We have ripped them up and replaced them with malls and parking lots and office buildings and skyscrapers and apartment complexes. They have seen everything we have done. They can speak of their sorrow to those who can hear.

Powwow then is the way we remind ourselves of all these things. It’s good to gather together and celebrate the lives we’ve been given, the gifts given freely to us. We are reminded by the beat of the drum that we are walking with our Mother Earth. We are reminded to be thankful. We are reminded by the songs and regalia to be joyful, in our diversity and even in our adversity. Challenges we face are merely opportunities for improvement. Live in balance and harmony with All Our Relations and we will Walk the Red Road.

Blessings, Love and Peace

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