The gatherings of the past were not done as they are today. The current day pan-Indian and competition dancing pow wows are performed more for commercial and entertainment purposes. Prior to colonial contact, the eastern woodland native peoples probably held small gatherings to celebrate various special occasions during the year. A marriage, a death, the planting moon, the harvest moon, warfare, and trading would be likely events that would bring people together.
Our Band tries to combine the old traditional purposes, education, and artisan participation into our gatherings. We like to consider our gatherings to be more traditional than most other regional pow wows that are scheduled for nearly every weekend during the year. We do however support the commercial element of the artisans and traders at the gathering to help to fund other cultural and social services for the Band.
The gathering site should be in a woodland setting near water with a grassy level clearing greater than 200 feet square. If the gathering is planned for a public event with traders, the site should be 500 feet square and parking for 100 vehicles should be planned.
The circle should be between 50 and 100 feet in diameter. The preferred layout would use stones to mark the circle outline and eastern opening. Bails of hay or straw (9 minimum) make a good substitute for rocks and they can be used for seating for the dancers and elder spectators.
A good circle for public events can be made using 4-5 foot wooden stakes (12 minimum) spaced out along the circle outline with a top (1/4 inch) rope (200-300 feet) tied from stake to stake.
If traders are going to be present make sure that a perimeter space of at least 20 feet (50 or more is preferred) is provided around the circle.
To layout the circle, drive a stake in the center of the area selected. Pace off the desired radius (half the diameter) of the circle, tie a rope to the stake, mark the rope with a knot, and strike marks, using the rope length marked, around the circle outline so that each mark is the same distance from the center. Using the rocks, bails, or stakes divide the circle outline into equal parts so that the outline is clearly established.
At the center of the circle an arbor is setup. The arbor is a shelter for the drum, spiritual leaders and elders. The arbor is built using 5 to 9 heavy 2-4 inch posts that are approximately 10 feet in length, set 2 feet into the ground. For one drum the arbor should be approximately 10-12 feet in diameter. If two or more drums are to sheltered under the arbor the size will have to be increased accordingly. A center post will be needed in this case. Poles, 12-14 feet long, are lashed, about 8 feet above the ground, from one upright post to the one opposite it, or the center post. The number and size of the posts and poles will depend on the size of the arbor. Once the sub-structure is completed, branches and bows of evergreen, pine or cedar, are placed over the poles to form a roof. The amount of evergreens used will depend on the need to screen out the sun or to keep out rain.
As the sun rises each day of the gathering, the spiritual leaders gather at the circle to smoke and make prayers for the gathering. They ask the Creator, Mother Earth, Father Sky, the four directions, and all of our Relations to bless the gathering, the gathering grounds, the people coming and going, and those that could not be there. The circle is blessed at this time using tobacco and other offerings to Mother Earth - to be allowed to walk and dance on her in the circle.
The drum calls the people to the circle with various welcoming songs. When the people are gathered at the circle eastern entrance they form a procession. There is much debate about who enters the circle first. Obviously the spiritual leaders have already been in the circle to bless it and the drum is already in the arbor at the center of the circle. Most people agree that the elders lead into the circle first, usually with the men proceeding the women and children to "clear the way" and some young warriors to follow for their protection.
The first song is usually a "warm-up" calling or welcoming song. The next one is the "grand entry" song. The first few songs and prayers follow this pattern and purpose:
Calling or Welcome - To bring the dancers to the circle.
Grand Entry - To invite everyone into the circle.
Honor - Our Land - To honor our Land, N'dakina.
Death Prayer - To honor those that have gone on before us.
Warriors & Veterans - To honor and to remember those that have pasted on before us.
Ancestors & Creator - To honor the Creator and all of our Ancestors of Past, Present and Future Generations.
- Men to Men welcome song.
- Women to Women welcome song.
- Welcome to all song.
After this point the songs follow many honoring, special dances, and social practices. For example the following are used:
Band Honor song - To honor where we come from.
Medicine - Medicine honor song.
Round Dances - Several social dances.
Feast Song - To honor the animals and plants that give us food.
Green Corn - Honor song for corn and the upcoming harvest.
Pine Needle - Special dance to follow directions about going around, left, right, forward, backward, and fast.
Snake - Special dance of follow the leader in a snaking chain that winds around the circle in all directions.
Animal Clan - Honor song for all the clan animals, calling them by name.
Crow - A crow honoring song and dance.
Eagle - An eagle honoring song.
Children's - A song to teach the children numbers and the parts of their body from their head to their feet.Love Songs - To romance the young women at the gathering.
Wedding Dance - Special song for a wedding.
Canoe Song - Canoe on the river description song.
Seven Directions - Honor song to the directions to the Creator, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and all of our Relations.
At the end of each day at sunset the circle is be closed until the next sunrise. A great communal feast is held after the day time dancing stops. All people are encouraged to make and share their food with one another. Before the eating starts a Feast Honor song is sung and the leaders make prayers of thanksgiving for the food. The elders and drum are served first to honor them.
A night time fire is started at the gathering sight and the drum sings social dances for as long as they and the dancers wanted. This was a social time, no public attention and minimal formalities. This was also a time for the young people to sing and dance to show-off, practice new things, and make social friendships.
If the gathering is a major public event, the following information should be made available to the public in the form of a hand-out:
Kuai, kuai - Hello, hello and welcome to our POW WOW! A POW WOW may appear to you to be a festival , craft show, or a cultural demonstration. Colorful people in native dress - singing and dancing to the sounds of drums. This is true in many ways, but to us it is much more.
To the Algonquin language speaking people, which covers all of the original New England people, the words pow wow refer to a medicine gathering. A time when the medicine women and men would be available for healing and spiritual guidance. Singing, drumming, dancing, and prayers were all used as part of that healing process. Whenever we got together there would also be a great deal of socializing, trading, and gaming. This was an extended family gathering were many clans and bands of native people could come together in peace and good will. It was also a time for "match making" and marriages. Although the times around us have changed, we do not forget the ways of our ancestors, today's pow wows still have the spiritual elements of the gatherings of many generations before.
We dance in a circle, a circle that is formed and blessed by our spiritual leaders. As in life itself, the circle is a sacred place, it is the beginning and end, as the Creator has made it so. The circle is a place of worship - we ask you to respect and honor this - the spiritual center of our gathering. As the Earth revolves around the Sun we enter the circle from the East and proceed in the circle in the sun direction.
The singers and drummers are referred to as the "Drum." Like the rhythm of all living beings, the drum is the heartbeat of our People and the singing is our gift and praise to the Creator.
The dancing starts with a "Grand Entry" of the dancers, this is the way we first enter the circle, pay our respects to the Creator, and greet one another. Following the entry are honoring songs and dances for our land "N'dakina," for veterans and warriors that have gone on before us, and for our Ancestors. For these solemn ceremonies you will be requested to stand, remove your hat, and NOT TO TAKE PICTURES OR VIDEOS when asked to do so.
Once these ceremonies are completed you will be told to relax and enjoy the activities. As a courtesy to our people - please do not touch any of their native attire, feathers, or any of their personal belongings. Many of these things are sacred to them. Ask questions, ask for permission to see or explain something that is of interest to you. If you want to take individual pictures also ask permission as a courtesy. You will find that most Native People will be pleased to assist you when you ask first.
Various special dances and demonstrations will be held in the circle. One of these dances is called the "Round Dance." When this dance is announced you will be invited to join us in the dancing. When entering the circle - please go in from the East opening of the circle (do not go through the circle edge or under the ropes) and proceed in the sun direction (clock wise - going to your left).
While you are with us please check the art work and handicrafts of the artisans that are trading at the gathering. You will find a wide variety of Native food, jewelry, beadwork, baskets, silver work, herbs, and other Native trade goods, such as leather. Several demonstrations and story telling activities will also be ongoing - so plan on staying for the day.
All people are invited to come and participate in our celebration. We ask that you do not bring and drugs or alcohol on the gathering site - you will be asked to leave if you do. Please bring your whole family, we do! If you bring animals please keep them on a leash at all times for their safety. The elders and children will find this is a true family event for all of us, so bring your whole family and join us in friendship.