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The Story of a Native American Woman

Join me in this fun, informative interview.
Feel free to ask questions.
Do you know what the Ugly Man dance is?
I’ll bet you’ll be surprised!

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julessmallHello, Julie. Thank you for visiting us.

You are preparing for a powwow this June. Could you tell us about it?

Julie: Where do I start…. first, I invest in a LOT of valium and a nice comfy straight jacket, breathe deep, and say “let the insanity begin!”    KIDDING!

There is a LOT that goes in to running a powwow, and most people have no idea as to what goes on behind the scenes. We are very fortunate with the Farmington Iowa powwows, in that we have a static location available for us to use, and we have a wonderful team of volunteers to help lighten the load.

About 6 months before a powwow, I try to make sure that I have grant applications out, that my Host Drum and Head Staff are in place, and I have volunteers available. I also start listing the event on online powwow sites. We are starting to get serious about fundraising, and soliciting donations for the event, and finding places to store everything.

A couple of months before the date, there are a lot of emails and phone calls from dancers, the Drums, vendors, and my head staff, to make sure that everything is on track, and answering inquiries from the public, dancers, and vendors. We are also constantly fundraising like mad, trying to make sure that we have enough money to cover the expenses involved.

This close to the powwow, (we are just about 3 weeks out) I have to make sure that we have everything we will need in place for a successful powwow, such as money, volunteers, food, water, the sound system, the arena markers, event t-shirts, tobacco, donations for the Give Away, etc.

We are having weekly meetings to get updates on everything that is happening, and things are going to get crazier in the next couple of weeks. I will be going down to the powwow grounds the day before the event to set up our tipis, and to map out vendor spaces, as well as being on hand for any early birds, and to help with whatever needs to be done. We will also be setting up the arena, and getting the grounds ready in general. And I promise that my phone will be ringing non-stop the entire event!

On Friday we will be having a pot-luck/carry in, and I have to make sure that that is set up and ready to go, and then on Saturday I have to make sure that my volunteers are on hand to sell frybread as a fundraiser, and to cook the evening meal that the powwow committee will be sponsoring, and making sure that things run smoothly.

Hope this answers your question!

DSW: For those of my readers who are not NdN (preferred spelling of Indian by American Indians), could you please explain who the Host Drum is?

Julie: The Host Drum is usually the first Drum group that is invited to a powwow, and fees vary from Drum to Drum. Our host has been The Night Eagle Singers from Kenosha Wisconsin. This Drum knows a LOT of the older songs that fell out of favor for a while, and have been gaining in popularity again.

DSW: Julie, why is fundraising important for the event? And where can people donate?

Julie: Most powwows are non-profit events, and with the economy tightening up, grants and other forms of endowments are harder to come by. Also, there is a LOT of competition for these types of events as there just are not a lot of grants available.

Our powwows operate under a parent organization that has their 501(c)(3) status, so any and all donations are eligible for a tax break on behalf of the donors, in addition to my co-chair and myself sinking a LOT of our own money into the events to help cover expenses. Our parent organization does not have a lot of funding available for the powwow, so it is important that we pay our own way to have an event.

A traditional (non-contest) powwow can cost up to $20,000, so fundraising and donations are very important! Our bi-annual events generally run a little less than $5,000 for each event (June and October), and we generally pay for them through charitable donations and non-stop fundraising, as well as contributing cash from our own pockets.

The community where the powwow grounds are located is a very rural area in South Eastern Iowa that depends heavily on tourism as well as being a farming community, and the area has been hard hit by the economic crash. So, donations from outside the area are more important than ever!

We will be accepting free will donations for the duration of the event, as well as having ongoing fundraisers such as a food stand, cold drinks, event t-shirts, 50/50 drawings, etc. and your readers can contact me via email at spottdeaglehorse@aol.com for more information on making a tax exempt donation. Any amount, no matter how small, is welcome, as we do have two events a year.

DSW: Why is tobacco important to the powwow?

Julie: Tobacco is generally given to someone as a gesture of respect, and also to show that you are serious about something when making a request of someone.

Tobacco is considered to be a sacred thing to Native peoples. An old proverb is that tobacco smoke is the breath made visible and that it is the visible representation of one’s prayers going to Creator.

I don’t know how else to explain it…. Tobacco is given to someone as a gesture of respect, such as an elder or a Holy Man/Medicine Man, Drum Keeper or Head Staff. It is given to someone when asking for a favor, or when asking for something important like a ceremony.

It is also given when issuing an apology to someone, or when showing a serious intent, such as asking for a mediator in a dispute.

Tobacco is offered to dancers to take in to the Arena with them, and at Ceremony for the participants to offer prayers.

In our case, in addition to a blanket and a cash honorarium, we give tobacco to the Host Drum, our head staff, Jr. head staff, certain elders, and key persons such as the arena director and emcee. This shows our appreciation for the services that they provide for the duration of the event, and as a gesture of respect.

DSW: There is certainly a lot of preparation ahead of time. What would you compare a powwow to?

Julie: Hmmm…. good question…. I would have to say the closest I could get would probably be a combination of a Broadway show, rock concert, family reunion and dance recital, all rolled into one. The public comes to see a show, and to experience a little bit of our culture, and of course to shop. The dancers are there to show off, and to celebrate our culture. In certain cases, there are dancers out there who follow certain “name” drums all over the country, much as a groupie would follow a rock band from concert to concert.

DSW: Are there many family reunions during these events?

Julie: Yes and no. We joke that a powwow is a Native family reunion, and joke about something called “skinship.” Skinship is when you put two Natives together at an event, and they will figure out how they are related, usually within 10 minutes or so, regardless of whether or not they are actually related, LOL! It gives us a chance to visit with old friends, and family that we may or may not have seen for a time.

DSW:  What if some of my readers wish to attend this or any powwow…what are the basic forms of etiquette – the dos and don’ts when attending a powwow.

Julie: There are a LOT of great websites that actually do cover proper etiquette…. But the basics are as follows:

1) Dress and act appropriately. Hot pants, halter tops, swimwear, profanity and ‘making out’ have no place at powwows. If you are going to dance anything other than open inter-tribals, wear your regalia. Remember to respect yourself, and the dancers.

2) Pointing with the fingers is considered poor manners by some nations. If you must point, use your head and nod in the direction you wish to indicate.

3) The seating around the Arena is reserved for dancers in regalia. Seats with blankets, shawls or regalia items on them are taken and should not be bothered. Do NOT sit on someone else’s blanket unless invited. Uncovered seats are considered available.

4) Pets should be left at home. The Arena is a sacred place from the time it is blessed until the powwow is over. At no time should pets be allowed in the Arena.

5) Listen to the Master of Ceremonies. He will announce who is to dance and when. Most powwows conduct inter-tibals in which the public may participate. Check with the Arena Director for more information, or listen to the emcee.

6) Pictures should NOT be taken during Veterans Songs, Flag Songs, Prayers or any other time announced by the Master of Ceremonies. If you wish to photograph a dancer in regalia, ask first. If the picture is for publication or commercial use, that should be explained before the picture is taken.

7) Respect the Head Man and Head Woman dancers. Their role entitles them to start each song or set of songs. Please wait until they have started to dance before you join in. In some traditions, it is considered improper to pass the Head Man or Woman Dancer within the Arena.

8) Show respect to the Flag, Honor and Veterans songs by standing until the song is completed.

9) Some songs require that you be familiar with the routine or have special eligibility rules in order to participate. Trot dances, snake, buffalo, etc. require particular steps or routines. Veterans’ dances may be restricted to veterans, combat veterans, or in some cases the relations of veterans. If you are not familiar with a particular dance, observe and learn. Watch the Head Dancers to learn the procedures.

10) The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing. Pictures are not allowed during these songs.

11) Most powwows are non-profit and depend upon donations, raffles, blanket dances, etc. for support. Donations are encouraged as a way to honor someone. Any participant can drop money onto the blanket to aid in the powwow expenses.

13) Certain items of religious significance should be worn only by those qualified to do so. Respect the traditions. NEVER intentionally touch another dancer’s regalia, person, feathers, or property without permission.

14) Giveaways, attributes of Indian generosity, are held at many dances. They are acknowledgments of appreciation to recipients for honor or service given to the people. When receiving a gift, the recipient thanks everyone involved in the giving.

15) If you wish to ask for a special song from a drum, talk to the Arena Director first and make sure the master of ceremonies is informed. It is traditional to make a gift (monetary or otherwise) to the Drum for special requests.

16) Before sitting at a drum, ask permission from the Head Singer. Do not touch a drum without permission. This especially applies to women! Most Drumming is traditionally a male only occupation, and a woman sitting at the drum can cause grave offense.

17) If at any time you are uncertain of procedure, etc., please check with the emcee, arena Director, or head singer. They will be glad to help you with your questions.

18) Unless you are sure spectator seating will be provided, bring a chair. Remember that the seating immediately around the Arena is for dancers only.

19) Alcohol, recreational drugs and firearms are prohibited at most powwows.

20) If you see a lost feather, or you yourself drop a feather, do NOT pick it up. Notify the nearest Veteran, the Head Veteran, Head Man Dancer or Arena Director immediately.

21) Before dancing barefoot, speak with the Arena Director. At some events this may only be done by Sun dancers, who are usually known to the organizers.

22) In some places it is okay for adults to dance while carrying infants or small children. In other places this is considered contrary to local etiquette. Ask before doing so.

23) If you have a question, ask. Most dancers, singers, elders and staff are happy to help. Offer a cold drink or other small, symbolic gift to those who help you.

DSW: Julie, I remember at one powwow a church rang its bells through a lot of the powwow and some people picketed stating that this was a “heathen” event. What would you like to say to those people?

I forgive you.

DSW: Thank you, Julie. As usual, you are informative, kind and patient.

Interviewer’s Note: I would like to say one thing. Before anyone decides to picket or berate another group’s traditions, they should find out about the event first. A powwow is no different from an Irish, Italian or Greek Festival, for instance. The powwow is a gathering of a people who are trying to preserve their traditions, songs and dances, reunite with friends and family who they possibly haven’t seen since the last powwow, to buy from and admire the various artisans who are offering their wares and to enjoy the delicious food offered at the food stands.

The Muddy River Powwow is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/583394728404225/

Julie, again, wopila – thank you.

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