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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Shayfer

Shayfer's Fire - Gathering of Nations

Pow wow is many things to many people. It is mostly a coming together, a celebration of life and the ancestors who have walked these lands before, a tribute to the Creator, a meeting of nations for peace, a statement to the world that loudly proclaims "We are still here" and a reason to dance, to feel the beat of an ancient heart and the earthy rhythm of the drum.

On a more prosaic level, it is an opportunity for dancers to display their prowess and regalia and maybe catch the eye of a young woman or a jingle dress dancer.

My first pow wow was Crow Fair in Montana. It was, in part, like going back in time. A myriad of tipi's, the sound of several drums and traditional songs like a long ago echo through the valley, indian kids riding ponies bareback. Nicki and I picked up a Bill Miller (Mohegan) tape and played it as we left the pow wow. A storm broke over us just as Miller's song burst into a Smokey Town singers track preceded by a loud roll of thunder from the recording. A strange and exciting moment.

I've attended the biggest pow wow in Indian Country - Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, in which hundreds of dancers take to the sacred ground in a hypnotic maze of colour and spectacle.

I've been to an Ojibway pow wow in Minnesota in which my friends and I were publicly thanked for our work with 'Indigenous Links' but had to lead the honour dance while the Ojibway people followed (an acutely embarrassing experience for a self-deprecating Englishman).

I also went to a small pow wow in Washington state held by a local tribe - they were pitifully short of dancers, a situation not helped by generations of forced acculturation from the early reservation period.

Hopefully, the pow wow will continue to thrive at least with the larger tribal nations and a new generation will follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, dance to the drum and their own heartbeat, and embrace the traditions of their people. "A-ho!"

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