I meandered just a bit south to Carlton, Minn., to attend an Ojibwe pow wow for work. More like I white-knuckled it on the drive due to a snowstorm.
I made it to the venue and ended up glad I endured the stressful drive. Why? Because pow wows are fascinating and fun! If you ever have the chance to attend one, you should.
I’ve been to a handful in various locations across the U.S. Every time, I come away impressed by their friendly vibe and the dose of a different culture.
It’s also refreshing to be in the minority for once. Being outnumbered by Native Americans for a few hours administers a dose of empathy for what they must feel most of the time in larger society. And the regalia the dancers wear is so impressive. I could tell they spent a lot of time and effort to make and choose their dress.
I attended the pow wow as part of a teacher workshop I’m doing a story about for work. The workshop offered educators from Wisconsin and Minnesota the opportunity to learn more about Ojibwe culture and their relationship to water to bring into their classroom lessons. Attending the pow wow was part of the experience for the educators.
Before the pow wow, we were given an etiquette sheet so we could avoid making clueless-white-person faux pas.
I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting points with you. The first is that a pow wow dancer’s clothing is called “regalia,” not a costume. The info sheet says, “Costumes are worn to present yourself as something you are not.”
The sheet does not say what regalia is, but one could assume from the definition of costume that regalia is clothing that reflects a dancer’s true identity. Think of a queen. Her ceremonial clothing wouldn’t be called a costume (unless someone who was not a queen wore it.) It reflects her regal status.
The dictionary offers three definitions of regalia. One is, “the emblems, symbols, or paraphernalia indicative of royalty.” The other is, “decorations or insignia indicative of an office or membership.” The last is, “special dress (especially finery).”
I suspect the last two definitions are the most appropriate when thinking of pow wow clothing – the dancer’s clothes reflect their membership in the tribe(s), and they are clothes not worn every day. But I also like the idea that their clothing shows their true identity, and that identity is royal.
Another interesting guideline is not to touch a dancer’s regalia. It’s considered rude. I can see how having someone else’s hands all over something so personal could be an invasion of personal space and privacy.
The last is not to pick up an eagle feather that has fallen off someone’s regalia, or take photos of it being retrieved. The etiquette sheet states: “If you see a feather or regalia on the ground, do not touch it but do inform one of the dancers. They will take care of it properly.”
Eagle feathers are sacred to Native Americans, as is their regalia, so it makes sense they don’t want just anyone’s grubby hands on them. I also assume some ceremonies must be associated with retrieving a fallen feather.
End of lesson. Now you know few rules. Go out and find yourself a pow wow! It will be good for you.