Pow-Wow: Sioux War Council Painting by George Catlin

Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. A Pow-wow is a term that is commonly used to describe a gathering or meeting. The word originated from Native American Indians when they attended important ceremonies, tribal dances, feasts and sacred rituals.

The Pow-wows were organised by Medicine Men and the spiritual leaders of the tribes. As Native Americans began to associate with Non-Indians, important meetings, or Pow-wows, were organised to negotiate the terms of peace treaties. As many as 5000 Native Americans were known to attend such occasions and Pow-wows required meticulous planning and organisation just as they do in the present-day.

Native American Life - Pow-wow
The life, history and lifestyle of Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Pow-wow.

Pow-wow Fact Sheet for kids

  • Pow-wow Fact 1: The meaning and origin of the word “Pow-wow” derives from the Algonquin Indian word 'pau-wau' and referred to tribal spiritual leaders, Medicine Men and their religious and healing ceremonies
  • Pow-wow Fact 2: The term "Pau-wauing" referred to the activities that took place in the ceremonies and healing rituals
  • Pow-wow Fact 3: The first traders and settlers Anglicized the term 'pau-wau' to 'Pow-wow' and the word was so commonly used that it was eventually adopted as part of the Native American languages
  • Pow-wow Fact 4: The Pow-Wow centered around the Medicine Lodge. To accommodate large numbers of participants a Grand Medicine Lodge was constructed consisting of two massive tepees that were pitched facing one another and in close vicinity, or connected by, a roofless hall (arbor) or a colonnade of fresh-cut boughs
  • Pow-wow Fact 5: The space that the arbor covered was considered sacred ground and it was here that guests and important participants were invited to sit and where peace treaties were negotiated
  • Pow-wow Fact 6: The two massive tepees had different functions. One was reserved for the members of the society that was organising the event and where the sacred regalia of the Medicine Man was kept. The other was reserved for the best and bravest warriors of the tribe who had the responsibility of ensuring order was kept by the many spectators and that everyone was given the opportunity of participating in the feasting that accompanied the events
  • Pow-wow Fact 7: A Pow-wow was often attended by members of many different tribes, some old enemies, so it was vital to keep order to ensure the success of the event.
  • Pow-wow Fact 8: A head organiser was delegated from one of the elders to organise the Pow-Wow and large council meetings who was identified by a red parallel stripe of paint on his face
  • Pow-wow Fact 9: The head organiser was often referred to as the 'Whip Man' and his regalia included a small braided whip. The Whip Man held considerable responsibility and his ominous title probably dates back to the first role of the Whip Man - that of the punisher. The role of the 'Whip Man' still exists in modern Powwows and he uses his whip to point at any flagging dancers.
  • Pow-wow Fact 10: The circle is an important symbol to Native American Indians being symbolic of the life cycle. Many Pow-wows were organised in a series of circles. Dancing took place in the center of a circle which formed by the drums and important members of the audience. The spectators formed another circle around the gathering.
  • Pow-wow Fact 11: In the center of the circle it became traditional to mount a flag staff waving a white flag of peace. A sacred calumet, or peace pipe, was also tied to the flag staff
  • Pow-wow Fact 12: There were rules and codes of conduct at Pow-wows. Meetings between enemy tribes could obviously give rise to disagreements. Talking Sticks were used to ensure an orderly, just and impartial hearing of all participants. No-one was allowed to interrupt the person who held the Talking Stick and everyone had to listen to what was being said
  • Pow-wow Fact 13: American Indian Music and the beating of a drum played an important role in Powwows. Native Americans believed that music enabled their religious leaders to commune with the spiritual realm
  • Pow-wow Fact 14: Modern day Powwows have come to signify and embody the spirit and continuity of Native American people and their cultures

The Grand Medicine Lodge Treaty
Peace Treaties were negotiated at Pow-wows and the  Kansas Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty that was made on October 21 1867 is one of the most famous. The 1867 Kansas Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty was attended by delegates from the US government and over 5000 Native Americans from the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapahoe and Comanche tribes. The treaty fixed the southern boundary of Kansas, allowed for Non-Indian settlements in the area and opened the land up to railroads. The historic treaty is still commemorated to this day and includes a re-enactment of the treaty at the present-day Pow-wow

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