During the Family Reunion Festival, Powwow Arena Director Coby Lehman instructs participants on proper etiquette and what is acceptable to wear inside the arena. Lehman often passes out pamphlets that thoroughly explain proper powwow attire. While trying to adhere to these standards may seem daunting, the Cultural Heritage Center and FireLake Gift Shop can provide supplies and inspiration for any regalia needs.
The CHC holds regalia classes each Tuesday from 4-7 p.m. “The powwow arena is sacred, that is what many people forget,” explained Lehman. “To Native Americans, it is as sacred as a church. That is why you dress respectfully, don’t play while there are ceremonies and pets aren’t allowed. It’s always good to think how one would dress or act in their Sunday church service, because that is how they should approach the powwow arena.”
For women without regalia, the primary piece to acquire is a shawl. The shawl’s role is to conceal the arms while entering the arena. The gift shop has many shawl options for sale, and it is important for this to be a foundational piece of a color scheme for the full regalia. Shawls without fringes can be made in a day during one of the many arts and crafts classes that take place at the CPN Cultural Heritage Center.
For women, another place to start is a simple dress without any appliqué. Just as with shawls, these can be made in just one session of a regalia class. Traditionally, Potawatomi women dressed in a separate blouse and skirt for special occasions like powwows.
“We encourage people to bring their own fabric so they can specifically choose what colors they want to have,” said Dr. Kelli Mosteller, director of the CHC. “The classes have enough sewing machines to be used throughout the weekend.”
Moccasins are another regalia item that can be made in a class session. “You should be able to make a pair of moccasins in four hours,” said Dr. Mosteller. “All of the materials are provided and usually cost around $45.”
Covering of feet is vitally important when entering the powwow, with open-toed shoes and sandals being disrespectful of the sacred area that is the arena. Though regalia in the powwow arena is important for cultural and historical reasons, it does not mean that fashion is completely disregarded. FireLake Gifts also has an abundance of jewelry and accessories. Tribal members are encouraged to create their own during one of the CHC’s classes.
Said Dr. Mosteller, “Are earrings completely necessary for woman’s regalia? No. Do we not feel like our outfits are complete without them? Yes.”
For men, bandoliers, which is a long beaded hair pipe wrapping around the shoulder to the waist, can easily be made during one class session as well. They can be made standard or unique to match the color of someone’s regalia. All of the supplies to make bandoliers are readily available at the gift shop.
Ribbon shirts are also another feature of men’s regalia, and are especially helpful during the hot summer months. Like all forms of regalia, a bit of patience and effort is all that it takes to create something that is important to you. Creating a unique and personal ribbon shirt does not have to be a complicated affair.
If someone owns a collared short or long sleeve button up, it can be made into a ribbon shirt.
“Simply sewing ribbon to a shirt can be done in an hour,” explained Dr. Mosteller. “Using the sewing machines and other supplies we have available at the CHC and FireLake Gift Shop, a unique shirt or dress can be created in one day.”
For the younger ones, expectations are the same as for adults. When in the powwow arena, proper attire is required. Allowing kids to create their own regalia during the classes offered before and during Festival is twofold. First it allows them to have personal input on what they’ll wear; a vital point when creating regalia.
Secondly, the classes are a great activity to beat the heat during those long, hot Oklahoma June days.
“We want everyone to participate during Family Reunion Festival,” said Dr. Mosteller. “We offer all of these classes and options to Tribal members and guests so we can keep the traditional ways of our ancestors. If you’re going to enter the arena, you need to wear regalia.”
If you would like to learn more about proper powwow etiquette, please visit the CPN Hownikan YouTube page or take part in the weekly regalia classes at the CHC. For more information please visit https://giftshop.potawatomi.org or call 405-878-5830.