Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Feast For the Eyes - Traditional Pow Wow and Native Harvest Festival

On September 14th and 15th, The Museum of Ontario Archeology here in London held its Annual Traditional Pow Wow and Native Harvest Festival.  Heather had heard about this from one of the Roller Derby girls and as neither of us had attended a Pow Wow before, we decided it would be an adventure.  This is probably the longest post I've ever done in terms of photos, so get yourself a cuppa and get comfortable.  It will be worth it, I promise...

According to the brochure from the Museum, "Pow Wows are celebrations where First Nations and non-First Nations people meet to dance, sing, socialize and honour First Nations culture." Pow Wows usually include a dance competition and can vary in length from one - three days, and major ones called for a special occasion can last as long as a week.  Pow Wow singers are important figures in the Native American Culture and without the songs, there would be no dances. Most dances seen at Pow Wows today are social dances that might have had different meanings in earlier days.

The first thing we saw when we entered the clearing behind the parking lot of the Museum was a longhouse, and a circle of people sitting in chairs.  There were also booths selling First Nations crafts and food.   Of course, my eye was drawn to the woman wearing orange and green.  There were several workshops, activities, and demonstrations taking place over the weekend and visitors could try their hand at beadwork, archery, lacrosse, and cooking traditional aboriginal foods.

Pow Wow etiquette requires that you ask permission before taking photographs of any of the dancers outside of the dance circle.  In general,  I ask permission before taking someone's photograph anyway, but I hadn't read the etiquette section of the brochure before I attempted to take a couple of photos and noticed the subjects obviously avoiding my camera.   I learned my lesson, and I asked this woman if I could take a photo of her beautiful blouse that she had decorated with silver beads and a metal disc.  

I was very interested in this man's regalia, which was very plain in contrast to some of the brightly coloured, fringed and beaded regalia worn by some of the other performers.  He said that what he was wearing was in keeping with what would have been worn in the 1800's. (photo by Heather)

 I confess to not asking permission to take this photo, although I did get photos of this dancer when she was in the Dance Circle, but I loved the contrast of her jingle dress with her purple-dyed braids - a visual feast incorporating the traditional and the modern.  I did a bit of research and learned that a Jingle dress is also called a prayer dress and according to one source, comes from the Northern Tribe Ojibewea or Chippewa.  Jingle dresses are decorated with rolled-up snuff tin lids that are hung with ribbon which is then sewn to the dress.  When the dancer moves, the jingles strike each other and make a beautiful sound.  Jingle dancers are traditionally considered healers.

The regalia worn by the youngest performers rivalled that of the adults in terms of colour and embellishment

The first dance was begun by these two young men, who were Lead dancers.   In most First Nations dances the Circle plays a major role, representing unity, and the cycle of life, and dancers often follow the clockwise pattern of the sun.

The two young men who began the dance were soon joined by other performers and members of the audience, who were invited to participate.  Just for the record, Heather and I did get up and dance.

This young man was very focussed and exuberant in his dancing, and was a delight to watch.

This dancer's regalia was absolutely stunning.  The designs and ornaments on a dancer's regalia can represent special events, religious traditions, symbols from legends, or honour a person's life.

The children's elaborate regalia was no less detailed in terms of fringe.  A dancer's regalia evolves over their lifetime to reflect changes in their lives and important events.

Some of the women performed a Smoke Dance, in which their movements imitated the twisting, graceful motions of smoke

A young smoke dancer

Many of the female dancers often have animal fur attached to their braids

This young lady had a regal bearing that was well beyond her years

This young woman carried herself proudly and had the most beautiful beaded hair adornments.  The fur attached to her braids is muskrat

The man I had posed with earlier spent some time answering questions from two brothers who were sitting around the circle.

I was entranced by the beautiful beadwork on the boot covers worn by the dancers.

 male dancers' feather bustles

I admired this young woman's sequinned and fur trimmed braids, which she had done herself.  She would later participate in the Fancy Shawl Dance.

The smallest Jingle dancer

The young girl in the previous photo dances with the woman with the purple french braids I had photographed earlier

This stunning shawl is worn by the young woman with the sequinned braids in an earlier photo
The Fancy Shawl Dance is a relatively new addition to the Pow Wow and features fancy, fast-paced footwork.  The dancers wear brightly coloured, beaded and embroidered shawls with long fringe that evoke a butterfly's wings when they are dancing. They also will wear matching leggings, moccasins, hairpieces and jewellery, and are truly glorious in their finery.

Another Fancy Shawl that glittered when it was struck by the sun

A butterfly motif shawl worn by one of the young dancers

We were about to go into the Longhouse when this young woman in her beautiful red regalia started to dance.  She demonstrated the fast footwork and intricate steps of the Fancy Shawl Dance and her frequent spins sent her fringe flying - she was riveting!

We made a trip through the birch bark longhouse, where children were playing on the log benches along the walls.  The smell of wood smoke was everywhere, and I realized that it was the same smell that would have filled the nostrils of the people who had inhabited Longhouses hundreds of years ago.
We were just about to leave when Nikki Shawana, who is also a talented hoop dancer (we missed her performance) sang a couple of her own songs.  You can find a couple of videos of her on YouTube.

A final dance photo before we left featuring two dancers I hadn't photographed before.  The man on the far right is wearing a headdress of eagle feathers.  Unfortunately, I didn't notice the bald head in the foreground until I reviewed my photos at home.  At least it was perfectly centered.

If you are interested in learning more about Native American Pow Wows, there are a number of helpful sites on the Interweb including the one I found most helpful.


  1. this looks wonderful, I am envious as I imagine you had an awesome time.


  2. Your photos are amazing, thank you so much.

  3. omg i want those clothes! OOOOOO that pink cape, the boots the accessories!!! I am so inspired i cannot tell you! x

  4. Thanks you so much for sharing this!! The costumes are fantastic and it loks like it was an amazing experience!

  5. These people are beautiful! I have been to 2 pow wows in San Diego and I was entranced by the dancing, chanting and clothing. You showed us some really beautiful boots, outfits and most of all gorgeous people celebrating who they are. I love this post and wish I was there too!

  6. This is some event!
    The costumes are spectacular1


  7. Wow! I would love this although I'd probably be tempted to distract those amazing dancers and try their clothes on! x

  8. What an amazing post, Shelley. So nice to see First Nations cultures being celebrated. What beautiful photos and jaw-dropping costumes! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Breathtaking photos of gorgeous people! I enjoyed the vibrant colors and the details of the costumes, your commentary and of course, the dancing. A true feast for the eyes!

  10. Your photos of this event are wonderful, Shelley. What amazing costumes and dancing. I love the kids in particular, the little girl in blue and pink has such poise. I would never have seen anything like this without following your blog - yet another reason to love blogging! xxxx

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