Powwows Display Beauty, Artistry of Native American Culture
A powwow (wacipi) is a social gathering held by many different Native American communities. The word is derived from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader”.
Historically, a powwow was held to renew allegiances and maintain friendships with members of visiting tribes. The ceremonies often involved dancing and feasting and allowed the people to give thanks, honor their deceased relatives or deal with special honors such as name-giving ceremonies, adoptions and coming-of-age rites.
A modern powwow is a specific type of event for Native American people to meet and dance, sing, socialize, and honor their cultures. 2017 marks the 31st year of the Black Hills Powwow (He Sapa Wacipi Na Oskate), which has become one of the premier American Indian cultural events in the United States. Thousands of dancers, singers, artisans and spectators from across North America and beyond attend the two-day event, which is held in Rapid City, South Dakota in early October.
Whitney Rencountre, Black Hills Powwow Emcee and member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, encourages people from all walks of life to attend. “Black Hills Powwow is one of the largest powwows in the country. The powwow is a social gathering that displays the beautiful songs and dances of the Lakota culture. We invite everyone to attend and experience the beauty and artistry of the singers and dancers!”
Most of the various types of dances performed at the Black Hills Powwow are descended from the dances of the Plains tribes of Canada and the United States. One dance, the intertribal, is open to anyone who wants to come and dance, but a major component of the powwow is the contest dances, where dancers wear specific regalia for a particular style, including Traditional, Grass, Fancy, and Jingle. Contests are organized by age and style, and top winners receive a cash prize.
Rencountre conducts a one-session class, entitled “Wacipi 101” to teach others about the history, traditions, regalia and other intricate components of powwows. Security First Bank CEO Greg Hunter attended the class in 2015 and walked away with a deep appreciation of the traditions and artistry of the events. “People with an interest in Native American culture should try to attend a powwow, in person. They are spectacular.”