I remember camping out at the big 1971 Treaty days powwow that was held at Lower Fort Garry Manitoba. It was fun and crazy. As an adult we went to a few powwows and we even helped organize a few powwows. Now I haven't gone in a couple of years.
There are people that do not like the Powwow, they believe there is no Sacredness or Tradition to a powwow. They feel that it is an exhibition and that money has corrupted it. I like the Powwow and recognize the history behind the Powwow and the laws that were in-acted in the 1800's to outlaw Native Spirituality. Powwows were a way to hide the Give-away and prayer in plain sight. In any case there is a Spiritual or Traditional component to Powwow. You just have to recognize the history and look beyond the glamour in the festival of beads, bells and whistles.
I went to a Powwow held in Norway House around 2000. It was a nice event. They have their York boat days there along with the Powwow. The York Boat was vital to travel and trade for the northern communities.
Eagle Feather Bustle.
When this happens. The dancing stops and an Elder is called out to pray for the Feather. The Feather drop represents a Warrior being dropped, passing on. So a Drum Group is asked to sing an Honour song for the Warrior. The person who drops the Feather must seek out the Elder and offer him some tobacco so that Elder can perform the proper prayer and respect for the Feather before picking it up. In many cases the dancer makes restitution or an offering to the Elder, the Singers and the Powwow committee for the Eagle Feather retrieval. In some cases it is deemed that the Dancer did not take care of that Feather so it is taken from them. This rarely happens. Instead, a Dancer that knows the Tradition will offer to give up that Feather to someone else.
My nephew lost a feather from his dancing stick at this one Powwow. My nephew was just a young guy. In the Junior level about 12 years old. His Dad did the right thing and offered tobacco to the Elders and the singers. He also gave gifts to those involved, restitution if you will for the stopping of the powwow and for the work of the helpers/singers/Elders/dancers. After the Feather was picked up and given back to the boy. His Dad and he talked about the Dancing stick. The boy gave it to someone in the crowd. He was really sad but knows to learn about taking care of a Feather. Many people are taking Feathers for granted. Giving them to anyone and not feeding them. Another Dancer had witnessed my nephew giving away his dancing stick. He knew that this was a humbling experience, so this gentleman gave my nephew another stick to dance with. There are many Teachings to be had a Powwow, regardless if we think it as a Spiritual event or a festival.
At that Norway House Powwow I saw an Eagle Bustle come lose and fall to the ground. The dancer was a young man from Saskatchewan. He might have been Rising Sun, but not sure if that was him or not. He was a pretty good dancer and his Dancing Outfit was spectacular. Orange beaded Traditional Feather Bustle outfit. You could see the Bustle come lose as he was dancing, he knew and walked away in disgust as it started to fall. This was a big thing. Not just a Feather but the whole bustle. A ceremony was held for the retrieval of the Bustle. The young man was handed back the Bustle. People in the crowd lined up to shake his hand, comfort him and gave him donations. This I thought was backward. He did not give up his Bustle and the Elder or the Powwow committee or an older Dancer did not take the Bustle from him. Yet I did not see him give the donations to others in the crowd. That would have been the proper thing to do. I think some people are not sure what to do when the extra-ordinary occurs. It seemed he was rewarded for the Bustle falling to the ground. I was standing by this one adult Dancer, and he said that this was not the first time this young man dropped his Bustle. He went on to say that the young man should tie a safety string to make sure that if the Bustle breaks it is held from falling by to the ground.It was strange as there did not seem to be learning in this case. However, there are cases where the Windigokan could be influencing the situation. And my friend was the Master of Ceremonies for the event and he is a Windigokan. Not saying it was a Windigokan moment at the Pow-wow, but you never know. I still think that the young man did not do right by way of Traditions and the people there and by way of the pow-wow committee.
If you do not know what a Windigokan is, think of Niel Patrick Harris as Barney in the tv sitcom, "How I met your Mother". Or if that is too confusing of an example, take a look at the movie "Little Big Man", where there is an exaggerism caricature example of a contrary. You will know him when you see him (or her). You most likely have a friend or an acquaintance that has the traits of a Windigokan. I think the Lakota call them Heyoka, but I don't know me.
It is quite a thing to hold an Eagle Feather. Quite a thing to have one. When I went to the U.S. last year, I went looking for car license plates an autowreck yard. There were some Eagle Feathers hanging in the office. I asked the guy where he got those from. He said they are left in hanging in cars that end up at the scrap yard. Holy heck! I will not say the name of the Reservation but it is not too far in Minnesota. Lot of people from my Reserve go up the Casino there. I was like that at one time too. Did not treat Sacred things with that much Respect. Used them as currency or to buy good will, by giving them out. Like rattles, and other items. I see that it is not that uncommon for Indians to try and gain favour by using items as gifts to people who should not have the items. I stopped at this gas station on the way to our Reserve. The gas station is called the 59'er. Hanging on the wall was an Eagle Feather. I asked the lady where she got that from and she said that the Grand Chief Rod Bushie gave her. She is non-Native. Oh, I see. Guess he liked her or he would not have given something so sacred and coveted by Indian people.
I can't judge (but I am) as I was like that and may have been worse. I gave lots of stuff away. Not always to Natives. I did give pipe stone to a white friend of mine. He is dead now, but the stone lives on in a Pipe and that is good.
There are many people that will never have any of these items because they may not have access to them. I hope not to be so callous about Sacred items in the future. I will pass on things to my kids and Grandkids. My son's pipe will go to my Grandson. And other things of his will be passed on when the time is right.
|Windigokan Suit of 1880's. From SwanLake Reserve|