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May 1, 2012

Can White People Dance at Powwows?

Filed under: Native American — Alison Aten @ 2:41 pm

Women\'s jingle dress dancers by Gerry AuginashFind out the answer to this and many other questions you may have about Indians but are embarrassed to ask this Thursday, May 3, with author Anton Treuer at the St. Paul Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. Birchbark Books is hosting this event to celebrate the publication of his new book, Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask. Anton Treuer is professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University.

Did you know that the powwow is a relatively new cultural form? Treuer writes, “today’s events are commonly secular, not ceremonial, and are widely practiced all over North America. They usually last anywhere from one to three days, and they are open to people of all tribes, genders, ages, and races. Powwows are primarily dance events, where people wear sometimes elaborate beadwork, feathers, and other regalia and dance to a wide array of songs performed by numerous drum groups, each comprised of anywhere from five to twenty singers.”

So, can white people dance at powwows? Treuer responds, “Yes. Although there are prohibitions against the participation of outsiders in ceremonial events and customs for some tribes, powwow has no such official barriers . . . Powwow music is considered and often called inter-tribal–open to people of all tribes and races.”

That said, if you haven’t attended a powwow before, here’s a primer on powwow etiquette.

May is American Indian Month, and there are several powwows scheduled in the Twin Cities. If you are interested in attending a powwow, the Drumhop website and the Minneapolis American Indian Month Events Calendar have  good lists of upcoming events.  Below are some Twin Cities-area powwows:

Saturday, May 5: University of Minnesota Spring Powwow

Friday, May 11: St. Paul Public Schools Indian Education Powwow

Saturday, May 12 to Sunday, May 13: Annual Mother’s Day Powwow at Cedar Field Park, 25th Street and 18th Avenue South, Minneapolis

(photo credit: Gerry Auginash)

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