Tiny Tot Powwow Men

Ducking and swaying the dancers exuded the characters of hunter and prey. Stepping lightly through an invisible forest or softly across the prairie grass they circled each other, conveying heightened awareness and the power of instinct. Beside the three dancers, alone in the circle, a child reached the edge of the floor. Watching his elder brethren for a moment, he too began to feel the music. Lost in the drums he dipped and spun. He was so young but he matched the movements of the older dancers.

How could he know the steps? I wondered, enthralled as I watched him duplicate the others in almost perfect synchronicity. The child seemed guided by invisible hands. Turn here, now this way young one. I felt I could hear an invisible whisper in the air. Within moments the dance was over and the youngster stepped out of the circle. He had been performing alongside the men’s traditional dancers.

**Quick note before I bring you into the rest of my experience of the Tiny Tot Powwow at TRU this year. I found so much symbolism in the regalia, ceremonies, items and movements of the powwow that I had to split this event into two posts so I didn’t overwhelm you readers… too much. I decided to split the posts by the female dances and male dances. So here you are, the first post about the male dancers and their regalia.**

I was attending the third annual traditional powwow at TRU on Mar. 1. The TRU Gymnasium was filled with people: many of whom had travelled far, and for some been delayed a day to get there with roads closed due to weather.

Here’s a run-down of some of the things I learned about the male dances I was lucky enough to witnessed.

Men’s Traditional

Video Example: Kamloopa Powwow Summer 2012
Men’s Traditional

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According to a number of websites these dances stem from hunting and war parties returning home and celebrating their success through a re-enactment of their experience. They will frequently look side-to-side searching for enemies and game.

These dancers often wear a single bustle made from eagle feathers. The bustle can be representative of the battlefield. The circular shape is symbolic of the cycles of nature and unity among all things.

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I was later taught that eagle feathers are upheld with the highest respect. To be given one is to be honoured. Three graduating Indigenous TRU students, Carl Archie, Nicole Cahoose and Renee Narcisse were given a feather at the powwow I attended. They were also honoured with a song as congratulations.

I learned after the event that if an eagle feather should fall from an outfit only certain people may pick it up and it must not be photographed.

I’m really glad I did not happen upon a fallen feather. I surely would have picked it up.

Two eagle feathers symbolizing two enemies meeting in battle can top the headdress or roach, often made of hair from porcupines.

The mirrors placed on some bustles are meant to reflect bad spirits away.

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Men’s Grass

Video Example: Kamloopa Powwow Summer 2012
Men’s Grass

This dance features the ability of a dancer to control his muscle movement. Their regalia is very suited to showcase their movements with the long flowing fringes. Some dancers had these strips of fabric come alive and flow around them like a breeze was caressing them.

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Unlike the decidedly earth bound traditional dancers the grass dancers imitate creatures of the sky and grass being blown by the wind. It seems the sign of a good dancers is one that keeps his roach feathers moving.

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Men’s Fancy Dance

Video Example: Kamloopa Powwow Summer 2012
Men’s Fancy

This dance is essentially the men’s traditional dance but with more vibrant colours, movement and an extra bustle. I believe this dance was not present at the powwow I attended.

Prairie Chicken Dancers

Video Example: Kamloopa Powwow Summer 2012
Men’s Chicken

With these dancers the bustle is made from prairie chicken feathers rather than eagle feathers. They may also carry mirrors, to remember the role of mirrors in communication during times of war and hunting. As it’s name implies, the dancers will imitate prairie chickens as they dance. In fact the dancer’s goal is to imitate a prairie chicken so well he is disguised from his enemies because they mistake him for one.

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Drummers

Of course the drum groups were a large part of the powwow. In the past, but for some nations even now, women were not allowed to participate in the drumming. It is considered a great honour for a powwow to be attended by a large number of drum groups. Settled around the dancing circle these groups of musicians must always be ready because they can be called upon at any time to sing and drum a song.

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Sage Hills Drum Group

The drum itself can have many symbols. It is considered the heartbeat of some nations. It is often customary for the drums to be smudged and prayed over before use. The stand it rests on has four posts representing the four directions.

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Each drum group is unique and must be able to sing Honour songs, Flag songs, intertribal songs, competition songs and round dance songs. They may drum trick-endings to test each dancer’s ability to connect to the music. One man told me it is a competition between dancers and drummers.

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