For those not familiar with Native American culture, attending a powwow can be a confusing experience.
Powwows are rich with tradition, which can go unappreciated without an understanding of what's going on inside that "mysterious" circle.
In an effort to make powwows more enjoyable to the general public, Don Bread, an instructor at Haskell Indian Junior College, spent a recent afternoon outlining the numerous aspects of a powwow, a sacred custom among Native American people.
"To start with, powwows are celebrations," Bread explained. "It's a social gathering of people. Powwows celebrate our culture, and everything that happens within the arena has a purpose."
The arena is the powwow's stage. All dancing occurs inside the arena, which Bread said is considered a sanctuary by many Native Americans.
During the powwow, members of the head staff the leaders of the powwow make sure the arena is lively. The master of ceremonies keeps the dances going and directs what's going on inside the arena, Bread said.
THE ARENA director stays inside the arena, tending to the dancers' needs and making sure that no one violates powwow etiquette.
For example, according to most tribes, every dance must be led by the head man dancer. After he has entered the arena, male dancers are allowed to follow. Female dancers must wait for the entrance of the head lady dancer.
The arena director makes sure such rules are followed, Bread said. The director also will let onlookers know when it's OK for them to join the dancing and when photography is and is not allowed.
Being a member of the head staff is an honor, Bread said. During the powwow, each head staff member will call for a "special," which is a song that honors them. The staff member enters the arena followed by family members and friends. To return the honor of being a head staff member, the head staff members pass out gifts to family and friends during their special, Bread said.
"The greater you are, the more you give," he explained. "There have been instances when they've given everything they own away."
HASKELL'S spring powwow, May 3, 4 and 5, will feature the following head staff:
Master of ceremonies: Browning Pipestem, Norman, Okla., and Manny King, a counselor at Haskell.
Head singer: Cecil Dawes, an instructor at Haskell.
Head man dancer: Gabe Morgan, Anadarko, Okla.
Head lady dancer: Shawna Longhorn, Wichita.
Host Northern drum: Blackbear Singers, Lame Deer, Mont.
Arena director: Donald Beebe, Kansas City, Mo., and Doug Eagle, Ponca City, Okla.
Host gourd clan: Osage Gourd Clan of Oklahoma and Wichita Inter-Tribal Warrior Society.
Various styles of dancing are featured during a powwow. Gourd dancing, a warrior's dance that is said to have originated in the Southern plains, is typically featured in the afternoon. During gourd dancing, dancers hold a gourd in one hand and a fan in the other and use the gourd to keep time with the drum. Bread said gourds have been replaced with other noisemakers.
Women are not allowed inside the arena during gourd dancing; they must stay on the edge of the powwow grounds. Gourd dancing is supposed to end before the sun goes down.
The host gourd clan will lead gourd dancing.
A POWWOW'S main feature is the "grand entry," a contest in which many styles of dancing are represented.
During the grand entry, onlookers might be entertained by fancy dancing, which is marked by bright feathers and quick steps; round dancing, a social dance in which dancers sidestep to the drum; grass dancing, so called because the dancers move like prairie grass blowing in the wind; traditional dancing, a Northern slow style of dancing during which men wear bustles made of eagle feathers; straight dancing, a Southern dance that's slightly more flamboyant than traditional dancing in which men wear shirts detailed with ribbons; and jingle dancing, a Northern dance in which women wear bells on their costumes.
In snake dancing, dancers move like a snake, and during a buffalo dance, which comes after a snake dance, dancers mingle like buffalo grazing in a field.
If an eagle feather falls to the ground during a powwow, the arena director will stop the powwow. Bread said the eagle feather is honored much like the American flag. He said Native Americans hold the eagle in very high respect.
Most dancers wear feathers, which Bread said are "traditional from the word go." Bread said some dancers take their costumes seriously. Many have been passed down from generation to generation, he said.
BREAD SAID attending a powwow is an excellent way for Lawrence residents to learn more about the Native American culture. Haskell's spring powwow, which is scheduled in conjunction with the school's commencement ceremonies, is becoming well-known across the nation, he said.
"It's nationally known in Indian country," he said. "It's a big boost to the economy. The community is invited to come out and learn more about the Indian culture."
Rob Daugherty, instructor of Indian studies at Haskell, added that attending a powwow is a good way for people to learn more about the differences between tribes. He said several tribes will be represented at Haskell's powwow. More than 130 tribes are represented by the school's student body.
"You could have two guys out there looking the same, and they can be a thousand miles apart geographically," Daugherty explained.
Haskell's powwow also will feature traditional food and arts and crafts booths. The powwow kicks off at 7 p.m. May 3 with a grand entry. Dancing starts again at 1 p.m. May 4 and May 5. Admission is charged.
More information about the powwow is available from Wylma Dawes at 749-8448 or the Haskell president's office at 749-8404.