As we walked out into the night, we could hear the distant drumbeat. The beat got louder along with the sound of voices as we made our way down the narrow dirt path between the uncultivated weeds. We arrived behind the little house as a group. "The Bibles dance," came a voice below me. As I heard what sounded like an invitation to dance, three little faces looked up at me and two little brown hands lead me to the circle of worn earth. Stomp,shuffle,stomp,shuffle, this can't be too hard, I thought. It began as a few child-like giggles between the three girls; Soon though the laughter became louder than the drum. "Why are you all laughing?" I asked. "You do boy dance." came the reply.
"Come here, we'll show you how." They lead me to a piece of plywood on the ground serving as somewhat of a porch to their house. "Like this." The three began shuffling their feet. I looked at my feet and at theirs.
"There, like that."
"What you just did."
Getting confident enough not to look at my feet, I began to raise my head and look around. The moon was bright enough to see at dusk.
"No, not like that."
"What is the difference between the boy dance, do they stomp more, is it toe,heal?"
"Like this, there you got it . . . come now, we can go back."
"But what did I do different this time?"
It was evident that I wasn't going to get a verbal answer.
I must have caught on, they no longer laughed. The songs seemed to go on into the earth and trees. They danced with us. It reminded me of a psalm in the Bible that said that the mountains will break forth with joy and the trees of the fields will clap their hands.
The sun had gone down and the only light came from the house light and the little glows of the cigarettes dispersed around the circle. It was time to go, the drummers had stopped and we began to walk up the trail. "Wait," the little girls called, "there's going to be one more, all you come back and dance." They took my hand, heading back up the trail, the littlest one said,"They want to do a song for you."
"Let's have some comments on how everyone thought the pow-wow went," my professor asked the class, the Monday after the University's annual Pow-Wow. "What do you think? What goes into a successful Pow-Wow?"
"Hey, did you know there were more than 200 registered dancers?"
"Ya, I think some of those fancy dancers were beautiful."
"Did you see that one with all the yarn?"
"Do you think that's O.K. using yarn like that?"
"I think so, we can't afford much and if I can get some leather, I'm going to use it for a winter coat, a dance outfit you only wear once in a while."
" There were a lot of speakers, I don't remember there being that many there before."
"It was pretty loud, aye. What about that bringing in those drums."
"Do you think that's good for people's ears to have it so loud? I was going to come again on Sunday, but it hurt my ears; I wonder about the babies ears, if it hurt mine."
"Maybe some of those groups didn't need that much equipment."
"If they were outside though, the sound would disperse."
There were some nice looking guys there"."
"What was that?"
"That's what pow wow's are for, isn't it? That's what Sheena is there for, to check out the guys."
"What about all that talking? Anybody hear all the talking during the man's speaking in Ojibwe?"
"Yeah, I was trying to hear to pick up some words."
"I understood a few."
"Maybe it's because not that many know the language or understand it."
"The talking went through the English part too."
"They had some nice things there, I thought."
"Did anyone buy anything there?"
"How do you feel about the trading?"
"I think it's all right as long as it's Indians selling thestuff."
"And it is fair prices, not commercialized."
What about the little stuff some of the kids had, that sells for only two or three dollars?"
"I didn't get to see any of it because I had to serve the whole time, I didn't even plan on it, but nobody else came to help."
"Yeah, all those committees, people signed up and got started on it, but nobody finished what they were supposed to do; everybody wanted to be involved and said,yeah, I'll do that, but then a few of us got left doing it all."
"I think that happens with any organization."
"That clean up committee never showed up either. And there was a big mess."
"In the parking lot by the Music building too."
"How 'bout that? Why are Indians so sloppy?"
"The community just judges what they see after the weekend."
"We should have sent the kids out there to pick up the parking lot, they'd have it done in no time."
"We're just about out of time, does anyone else want to ask anything?"
"I was wondering about what the dances are for, I know that some are to honor someone or a new dance outfit, and some are for special categories of dancers, but I was wondering what the dancers are thinking when they're out there. What does the pow wow mean to them, what is the significance of the songs. I know there is some spiritual significance."
"O.K. can anyone answer that?"
"I'm too shy"
It is impossible to discuss a pow wow without involving spirituality. One of the issues is the concern that the pow wow is becoming more of just a social event. Therefore the question arises, what was it before it became just a social event? What was the purpose? One Indian lady said something to me about dancing, she said,"If you have a prayer or something, go on outthere and dance, we're tribal people, anybody can dance." I did have a prayer and I did go out and dance (It's a good thing the One I was praying to looks at the heart and not the feet, I still didn't quite have it right.)
I wondered how many knew what the articles of clothing they were wearing meant. I saw a man with white stripes painted on his face and his arm and I wondered what it was for. In one of the dances there were several men at one place in the circle dancing in a smaller circle and there was no one else on the floor. I asked my friend next to me what they were doing. She said someone had dropped a feather and it was important to get it back the right way. I felt as though some there were having a spiritual experience through the ceremony, and many were only having a good time or on the benches watching the procession.
It reminded me of a church service. A church service is a ceremony. I was brought up in a church without much set ceremony, without many objects holding spiritual symbolism, yet much of the conversation shows the same themes. Many people would say that what is important to a successful church service is community involvement. Many are drawn to the appearance. We wear Sunday outfits. Some come as a place to meet good looking guys/girls. It is hard to find people to serve sometimes and to stay and clean up. I wonder how many out there know what the symbolism and service means. I feel as though for some, attending the meetings is evidence of a deeper spiritual connection. Indeed, some come to pray and some are there only to have a good time or just sit on the benches and watch the procession.
Christianity and Indian religion are different in many ways. Yet, both are based on a respect and reverence for the Creator. Both ceremonies are deeply spiritual in original purpose. Yet it is up to the participants to have that reverence in their hearts in order to carry meaning beyond the outward appearance. When people lose that, then a spiritual and cultural breakdown begins to happen.