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    I have been to quite a few countries during my life’s walk and the one thing that always stood true in each and everyone of them was this: Respect the people of the country you are in, and honor to the best of your ability their customs and ways and you will find them smiling at you, not frowning at you. 

    It never ceases to amaze me how people, Americans in particular it would seem, can turn to be so obnoxious and degrading in their complete disregard to customs and people outside their own normal environments. One does not have to “know” the languge and depth of customs of a country to be welcomed there, one simply has to show they are trying to do so. Do this, and for the most part, you will be welcome most anywhere.

    The same applies for attending Native American/American Indian Pow Wows. For, in a sense, you are visiting another country; certainly a small taste of Time Travel for much of what you see and hear has been passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter for countless generations far long before the first European even had the thought of what might be on the other side of the Great Water.

    What is provided here is not to be taken as “The End All – Be All” as to how one should comport themselves at a Pow Wow. However, if you begin to use these suggestions or rules as a starting point, you will find yourself having a much more rewarding experience than not.


1. Dress and comport yourself as the event deserves respect. You wouldn’t wear dirty jeans and beer stained tee-shirts or blouses/skirts that presented more than it tastefully conceals to Church would you? Well, many of the dances and happenings at a Pow Wow have great Spiritual meaning and content. The active participants/dancers are not at the Pow Wow just to generate money and the like, but to celebrate their Way of Life and The Creator that gave it to them. You are, basically, invited there to learn of the Native American way and given an insight into a collective Heart that has withstood the test of time. In short, whether you pay admission or not, you are being given an invitation of Honor – realize this and present yourself accordingly. Note: This event is NOT a free-for-all dancing rock concert! From time-to-time, there will be “open intertribal” dances, where participants other than the “registered” Dancers can join in, and the “outfit” or “regalia” will not matter. However, if you want to dance anything other than this – WEAR YOUR REGALIA, and make very, very sure you are allowed to do so BEFORE you embarrass yourself and insult your hosts.

2. There are countries where to sit with one’s soles of their feet directed at another’s head is deemed extremely insulting. Well, within many Native American Nations, for one to point with their fingers is consider very poor manners as well. If you are such a one that needs to wave their fingers and hands about in order to talk…begin to train yourself not to, or, devise ways to tie your hands down: NOW! One can always nod or indicate direction with their head, if such action is needed.

3. Pow Wows, like most any other public event, have a thing in common: Seating. Most especially if it is held, in the main, outside. There are from time to time, events held in gyms or convention type areas, however, this is the exception rather than the rule. If you are thinking about going to a Pow Wow and expect to be catered and pampered, stay home. Bringing your own folding chairs, lawn chairs, etc., is not only accepted, it is a good thing and shows forethought on your part. KEEP IN MIND, there will be what you think as “seating” in various places around the dancing area, or arena. These are for the Dancers in their Regalia…NOT for the public. Do not in any way bother any items that you might see sitting or draped upon these seats; for one thing it is a sign that particular seat is taken, and for another, disturbing these articles could land you in a heap of trouble. Sometimes, in some places, chairs near this area are available to the public: Ask, just don’t sit yourself down. And NEVER sit on someone’s blanket unless you are invited.

4. I know, many people consider Fido a member of the family. This is not such a time. Unless your pet happens to be a Guide Animal, leave it at home. The arena becomes a Sacred Place as it is blessed at the beginning of a Pow Wow, and remains so until the event is finished. And as you would not want someone bringing their horse into your Sanctuary, do not bring your animals into theirs. Besides, show me someone that truly believes that Buster or Miss Prissy Highpockets cares even a little bit about the activities going on and their meaning and I will show you a true candidate for a mental health checkup! Leave the pets at home.

5. As with most public events and the like, the Master of Ceremonies is the in the open “Boss”…pay attention! Take your cues from him. Pay just a bit of attention and from him you will learn and know who is to dance, who is not to dance, and when. Consider him your mommy and daddy at a Pow Wow; and, you KNOW what happens when you do not listen to mommy and daddy, eh? If you need to have access to more information, simply check with the Events Director or the Arena Director.

6. Unless you have PRIOR special permission, NO pictures should be taken during Veteran’s Songs, Songs of the Flag, Prayers or Prayer Songs, and including any other instance where the Master of Ceremonies tells you they are not allowed. If you are taking pictures that will have any kind of commercial value or media placements…inform the subject/s of the photo BEFORE the picture is taken and if they ask that you do not take the picture...then don’t! There will be plenty of opportunity for great pictures, just keep in mind that this is not a Photographers carnival.

7. At most Pow Wows, there will be Head Man and Head Woman Dancers. That is, if the Pow Wow you are attending has been originated by Native Americans. I say this because it is becoming some sort of a trend where so-called Pow Wows are being generated/sponsored/originated… whatever, by European factions. I will not speak against these people; however, just think on it a bit. As to the Head Man and Woman Dancers, they deserve respect as their role indicates. Basically, it is their role to begin each song or set of songs. Remember, songs at a Pow Wow are not akin to a public event where the Star Spangled Banner begins and the entire crowd begins to sing at which ever point they either can remember the words to, or the mood strikes them. Keep in mind as well, each Pow Wow is an entity in and of itself. Within some traditions, it is very improper to pass the Head Dancers…just like it is to pass the Flag Bearer in the 4th of July parade.

8. Whenever you deal with people, of any origin, Respect and Honor should be the keywords. It is a shame that it is not and people have to be reminded. At any rate, as you are expected at any time or place where Flag and/or Veteran’s songs/rituals are being enacted or sung, then stand until the scenario has finished. Of course, physically challenged people are exempt from this, but as they have devised their own ways of showing respect at various other public events, they should also in this instance, as well.

9. REMEMBER! There are songs/dances that one simply needs to be familiar with before attempting participation. DO NOT leap out in exhuberance at the first sound of a voice or drum. Again, Pow Wows are not free-for-alls. As well, sometimes special eligibility is needed for participation. One can learn from watching and have just as much enjoyment in doing so. Take particular notice of the Head Dancers.

10. Native Americans have a Flag Song or Indian National Anthem, as it were. Conduct yourself just as you would during the singing or playing of the U.S. National Anthem: stand, remove hats, do not dance, and no pictures; this is not the Super Bowl or World Series!

11. As briefly mentioned earlier, most Pow Wows, especially if they are in the most Traditional way, are non-profit. Which means the event sponsors/hosts and participants depend on various things such as blanket dances, raffles, or donations in order to continue to provide the event. Now, to be sure, as the blooming and spreading popularity of Native American Ways and the hope of finding a more Spiritual Way by non-Indians gains ground, more and more Pow Wows of less than strict traditional followings are springing up all over the place. It is readily easy to spot the Traditional as opposed to the not so traditional. Do as your head and heart tell you. Donations are also a way to “Honor” someone. Remember, anyone can ask a Dancer to place money onto the “Blanket” to help defray Pow Wow expenses.

12. Have a care with Native American items that you have received, one way or another. Many non-Indian people walk around wearing items that have religious connotation and significance, albeit they do so without knowing it. It is one thing to do this in everyday life, it is quite another to do this at a Pow Wow. Knowingly or unknowingly. If you have any question about your favorite piece or item: ask. 

13. DO NOT get touchy feeling grabby at the resplendent Dancer Regalia even though your fingers just itch to do so. I doubt very seriously that you would reach out and fondle Queen Elizabeth’s Pendant, or Mrs. Bush’s brooch, would you? Well, you wouldn’t do it more than once, anyhow. (s). There are those that will allow such tactile experience, ask.

14. At Pow Wows, there are what is called “Giveaways”. This is an inherent trait of Native Americans generosity that has such a history, its beginning no one knows. As a general rule these are acknowledgments of appreciation, honor, or for services done for “the People”. A recipient thanks everyone who has a portion in the giving. Don’t get upset if some around you happen to be given something, and you do not. It is NOT that kind of “Giveaway”.

15. One can ask for a special song. You must speak to the Director of the Arena and then make sure the Master of Ceremonies is informed. Be sure to honor the Tradition to make a “gift” be it money or else, to the Drum for any special requests. REMEMBER: This does not mean that you can go and request “Johnny Be Good”!

16. Just like sitting in seeming available chairs, before you sit yourself in front of or at a Drum….ask permission from the Head Singer. And do not…repeat DO NOT go touching the drum or other things…without permission.

17. I can not stress this next enough: NO alcohol, non-medicinal drugs or firearms are allowed at the vast majority of Pow Wows! You really want to get yourself in trouble…go ahead, try it. Give me notice ahead of time though, I wanna make sure I am there to watch.

18. Items/Regalia found on ground. I know, you are a good person…however, do NOT pick it up and run looking for a Lost and Found. Various items, most especially Eagle Feathers have a strict and distinct ritual that must be adhered to when they “touch the ground”. If you have someone with you, then have that person find a nearest Veteran or basically anyone of Authority, while you stand guard by the item insuring that no one else happens by thinking they found a souvenir. If you are alone, wait until someone passes by and ask them to do so. AGAIN, I stress: do not be picking it up or handling it yourself.

19. If you are the inquistive type, or really interested in educating yourself in The Ways of the Native American, nearly all singers, elders, dancers, staff…even other non-participating Native Americans will be more than happy to aid you. Offer a cold drink or any other small gift of symbolic nature, and you will see the beginning of a new friendship.

20. Respect and Honor: Keep these two things in mind. If you have any question at all, about anything – ask someone. It is far better to ask the wrong person than not to ask anyone at all and doing some thing that you have no idea at all how it may effect others around you, or even yourself. Do these simple things, and, 


Marianne Millar

Marianne Millar

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Created March 13, 2003