As the main event of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Family Reunion Festival each June, the Saturday evening powwow brings everyone together for traditional dancing, music and more.
With Tribal enrollment expanding, some will honor their ancestry and relatives at the powwow for the first time. Now is a good opportunity for a refresher on powwow etiquette. Rules regarding clothing, personal space and dancing make participating comfortable and fun.
Tribal members are encouraged to wear regalia. Flip-flops, tank tops and shorts are not permitted in the arena; keeping legs and shoulders covered shows respect for tradition in the sacred space. Those not following the dress code should remain in the stands and not enter the arena.
Women should dress in a long skirt that reaches down to the ankles and a top that covers the shoulders as well as carry a shawl. Men should wear slacks and a ribbon shirt that covers the shoulders. Purchasing a button-up shirt and sewing the ribbons onto it is acceptable. Everyone should wear close-toed shoes at all times.
Those staying in the stands should not cross the boundary line on the outer edge of the dance circle. There is a walkway behind the row of benches for the dancers. Move around the outside of the seating, and respect others’ personal space.
Parents should watch their children during the powwow to ensure they do not overstep important boundaries, including the drum circle, dance arena and more.
Dancers often mark their spots on the benches with a blanket or piece of cloth. Move past these areas, and find a section that remains untouched. They also often place pieces of regalia not currently in use at their seat. Do not handle another Tribal member’s regalia unless invited to do so; it is highly disrespectful. Families pass many pieces down between generations, especially ones that hold family legacy and special meaning.
Dogs should remain outside the arena borders at all times. No eating, drinking or smoking in the arena.
Obtain permission to photograph and video dancers and those inside the arena, including posting those images to social media. If someone declines a photo request, respect their wishes. Listen to the event emcee for times to put phones away.
Do not step down into the arena to video others or livestream the event. Those seated in the stands should remain there for any photographs or videos. Respect others’ privacy.
The dance arena is a sacred space, and dancers often equate powwow participation with praying. Do not disrupt the momentum of the dance circle to capture photos or videos, and be mindful of personal space. Allow others the chance to connect and reflect. It is also frowned upon to take photographs of dancers preparing for competition.
Grand Entry begins at 8 p.m. Be present and prepared at that time. Keep in mind that it requires a significant number of people to coordinate Grand Entry; please be patient and flexible as well.
Those arriving after dancing has started should wait for their chance to join. Do not push or work past others to join a particular group; wait for an intertribal song if necessary.
First-time dancers should watch head dancers or others in regalia to learn the steps and get in the rhythm of Grand Entry. An individual’s family song is also an ideal spot to begin.
After stepping into the dance arena, always move clockwise in a circular motion, even if it is the long way around. When dancing in groups, women precede men.
Everyone stands during the opening songs to honor traditions and ancestors together.
The emcee provides instructions throughout the entire event, especially during unforeseen circumstances. Look for an up-to-date schedule for powwow dance demonstrations at the arena.
Questions regarding protocol are always welcome. An information booth will be located near the arena, and other Tribal members who have attended and danced before will gladly provide instructions or suggestions.
Read more about Family Reunion Festival at cpn.news/festival.