Monday, January 24, 2011

Dropping Eagle Feathers at a Powwow.

I am not a regular at Powwows. We went a few times when we were kids. Up to Piapot when we went to visit my cousins the Anaquods out in Muscowpetung Reserve in Saskatchewan. Our parents used to take us to visit our relatives.
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. 
The Powwow has a number of elements to it that the casual visitor would not know about. I am no stranger to a Powwow but I do not know many of the in's and outs of a Powwow. So when something out of the ordinary happens at a Powwow I am kind of lost as well. For example it is not that common for someone to drop an Eagle Feather from a head roach or an
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


  1. It's good what your nephew's dad taught him--not only for tradition, but for what that'll teach him about life, beyond the pow wow. But it's also really kind what the gentleman did, giving him another stick. That'll teach him good things too. :-) Maybe a pow wow, like most things in life, is as good, or bad as people make it?

    I'm white, I've only been to one. Of course, it was a good experience for me, as a visitor--to learn about my neighbors across the St Lawrence river, to finally see expert dancing and hear great music live, and to spend a little money on small businesses. But it's not for me to judge on questions of tradition, of course. :-S

    So it's interesting to read your perspective. Also, to see the Windigokan's natty suit.

  2. Windiogkan\s are very special in the Native community for sure.

  3. I think the dropped eagle feather thing has gotten way out of hand. It's not traditional but rather post-1970s. It treats eagle feathers the way Tea Party people treat the American flag ("it can never touch the ground!"), and that's certainly not the way our ancestors treated them. I once dropped a vulture feather and quietly picked it up, only to have the head vet and arena director literally follow me outside the venue to ask if I just picked up an eagle feather by myself. When I said it wasn't an eagle feather -- and didn't want to stop the powwow for a vulture (also, I wasn't dancing at the time but watching an exhibition) -- the head vet said, "It doesn't matter; all feathers are sacred because all birds are our relatives." HUH? How about those little dyed fluffs that fly off fancy dancers all the time? Obviously, being the culture boss, he just wanted to set me straight about something, but that's not respectful to PEOPLE. Everyone needs to relax, lighten up, and let our culture protect itself; all these rules are just making people uncomfortable, and that's not good for our traditions in the long run. You know your culture is in trouble when you have to compile a bunch of prohibitions and how-to rules around it.

    1. "A bunch of prohibitions and how-to rules..." It IS tradition, it has been that way for generations...perhaps you need to get re-educated in the traditonal ways cause you sound to westernized!!

    2. Not that I'm the Traditional ways police or anything, but each part of an eagle, feathers, claws, etc, all have their own spirit. That's why they are treated differently when they fall. That's why that head vet wanted to make sure what kind of feather you dropped. His answer was kinda lame, I agree. Maybe his clan is a bird or sky clan. Remember, the eagle was the only animal that spoke for us and defended us when the Creator wanted to destroy us. BTW, our culture will not protect itself, we need to protect our culture, which is a vital part of us. The residential schools took a lot of the culture/traditions away from us, and we are still suffering from this, but I digress. The eagle feathers are uniquely sacred among feathers. If we seem to need a teaching moment from someone about our culture, that is not being disrespectful. You can take or leave what you want from what is said. You can either be receptive, or not. They probably are not saying what they are saying to attack you.

  4. I do agree at the principle of over doing it. At the same time we are not in a vacuum and things to evolve One of the things I do see is a lot, and I mean a heck of a lot of Eagles Feathers floating around all over the place. I think with the relative "ease" in the way feathers are gathered, the Feather loses its luster. I mean its sacredness. So if there is something to remind people that it is sacred than that is a good thing. But I do agree, we can be to over the top and pray for every single mosquito that we smash.

  5. I have yet to hear an eagle defend its right to own its own feathers free from the lust of human acquisitiveness. In addition, there is a big difference between "Tradition" and raw pagan ignorance. Too many seem content to let the details of knowledge remain under control of those with an attitude about their importance and the rule that others submit because they are somehow less "native" (traditional) for their ignorance. Its shameful how little People know about what they ARE.

  6. If you had the slightest understanding of the Wiindigokan, you would NEVER have put those pictures on your blog. Regardless of all the Zhagnosh blowing smoke up your ass, you should know it's wrong and what happens to people who screw around with it.

  7. Thank you for your comment. I understand there is quite a difference in opinion when it comes to Traditional Ceremonies and or Items being displayed. I obviously am comfortable with some things and not comfortable with other things. When I am "taught" about the proper way, I do what is asked. I do seek clarification on some things. I also do seek validation from an audience as well. Much of the emails I get are from other Neechi and some are not "blowing smoke" up my ass, but rather giving me advice, scoldings and some good words. It is all subjective. As for the Wiindigokan pictures, these are on the internet and I copied them. The topic of pictures is a good one, maybe I will discuss that in the future. Miigwich.

  8. In our area, Zhaganash is for English People, like Pauko-ouish if for French. We use Wemitigoshi or some say tigoshi, while others say moniyaa, or moniyashuck. In any case. I think I understood what your were trying to convey.
    I do know some Teachings related to the Wiindigokan but admittedly, I could always use and welcome more instruction.

  9. Thank you for this interesting blog. This is coming from a new Yorker who now lives in Winnipeg married to a native. I enjoy reading and learning more so THANK YOU!

  10. Thank you for stopping by. I like thinking out loud and that is kind of what takes place on the blog. So thanks.

  11. I know this is an old post, but it seems the right place to ask a question I do not have the answer for.
    My father has given me as gift a total of three bald eagle feathers, one in a traditional dream catcher and two in a smudging fan, bought from Native artists in the US. Neither of us are Native, though I've heard I have a faint Native ancestry from my grandmother's side. I do not know the real way to take care of them, although I do my best to inform myself, as I know they are sacred and it would seem blasphemous to me to appropriate Native American culture.
    Is it alright for me, a non-Native, to possess such sacred artifacts and to attempt to maintain them, even though I have not the proper knowledge, legitimacy, or tools?
    Thank you for your insight

  12. Well I'm no expert in any thing. I do known this, many Natives will never have the opportunity to possess or be gifted Feathers or Pipes. Some of us have taken for granted the Sacredness of the Feather and other gifts from Creator. I know of some who have taken gifts away from people they feel don't deserve them. I have given gifts to non-Natives myself. So do what you feel is right for you. I do know it is against the law in the US to possess parts of an Eagle except for the purpose of ceremony. I would seek out and Elder in your area and seek their guidance. Thanks.


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