From Traditional to Commercialized Doings, Times Have Changed on the Pow Wow Circuit
Pow wows just aren’t what they used to be, according to a handful of elders across the Plains states. There was a time, not too long ago, when a pow wow was not about contests or fancy regalia, but was simply a gathering of family and friends, with homemade food, giveaways and unnamed dances.
Commercial is the word most often used to describe today’s pow wows, as opposed to traditional, as they were called on Pine Ridge, South Dakota. In the 1960s, Lydia Bear Killer, Oglala Lakota Tribal Council member, remembers going with her grandmother. “There were no contests, no categories, no concession stands.” Bear Killer said, remembering that most people spoke Lakota, and the children listened to the stories told by their grandparents. “The grandmothers talked about medicines they made. I used to see a root she had; it looked like a little human and I was scared on that,” she laughed. “It was bitterroot.”
Families camped there and ate together, Bear Killer said, adding, “All the tiospaye [extended family] were together. It was time to visit.” From Bear Killer’s perspective, pow wows are no longer the relaxing events of times gone by. “Today it’s really fast. It’s more stress than relaxing,” she said.
Richie Plass, founder of the Bittersweet Winds Mascot Exhibit and Lifetime Achievement Award winner of the 2013 Indian Summer Music Awards, remembers being “a little fella” back when pow wows were called “Doings” on the Menominee Reservation. “We would don our attire and we would do all these different kinds of dances. There was nothing called categories, we just all danced,” Plass said. “Then at night, we would wait around until they would put a blanket over the drum. My dad would call out, ‘Where are the kids? He would count noses and give us each three to five bucks.”
Dakota Vietnam War veteran Myron Williams said that when he was young, the dancing was much less organized. “Back in ’92 and ’94, people would bring a lot of food,” Williams said.
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