Pow Wow Etiquette

Posted By Paul G July 24th, 2011

1. Be on time. The committee is doing everything possible to ensure that activities begin and run smoothly. Please cooperate in this regard.

2. Appropriate dress and behavior is required in the arena. Anyone unwilling to abide by this rule will be asked to leave by the Arena Director. (If you are going to dance, try to wear dance clothes.)

3. Arena benches are reserved for dancers. Dancers wishing to reserve a space on the bench should place a blanket in that space before the dance begins. Please do not sit on someone else's blanket unless invited. Uncovered benches are considered unreserved.

4. Listen to the Master of Ceremonies. He will announce who is to dance, and when.

5. Respect the position of the Head Man and Head Woman Dancers. Their role entitles them to start each song or set of songs. Please wait until they have started to dance before you join in.

6. Dance as long and as hard as you can. When not dancing, be quiet and respect the arena

7. Be aware that someone standing behind you may not be able to see over you. Make room, step aside, sit, or kneel if someone is behind you.

8. Show respect to the flags and Honor Songs by standing during “special” songs.” Stand in place until the sponsors of the song have danced a complete circle and have come around you, and then join in. If you are not dancing, continue to stand quietly until the song is completed.

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9. While dancing at any paw wow, honor the protocol of the sponsoring group.

10. Some songs require that you dance only if you are familiar with the routine or are eligible to participate. Trot dances, Snake, Buffalo, etc. require particular steps or routines. If you are not familiar with these dances, observe and learn. Watch the head dancers to learn the procedures. Only veterans are permitted to dance some veteran's songs, unless otherwise stated; listen to the MC for instructions.

11. The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is raised or lowered. Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing.

12. Powwows are usually non-profit. It depends upon donations, raffles, blanket dances, etc. for support. Donations are encouraged as a way to honor someone. Any participant can drop money onto the blanket to aid in the powwow expenses. Support the committee and buy raffle tickets.

13. Certain items of religious significance should be worn only by those qualified to do so. Respect the traditions of Native American culture.

14. Giveaways, attributes of Indian generosity, are held at many dances. They are acknowledgments of appreciation to recipients for honor given. When receiving a gift, the recipient thanks everyone involved in the giving. Note: all specials and giveaways must be coordinated with the Master of Ceremonies. Please remember that it is traditional to make a monetary contribution to the drum for this request – clear this through the MC.

15. The Drums are sometimes closed, check with the head singer for permission to sing.

16. If at any time you are uncertain of procedure or etiquette, please check with the MC, Arena Director, or head singer. They will be glad to help you with your questions.

17. Take a chair. Most powwows will not have seating for the public or enough seating for everyone. Also, remember that the benches in the arena are for dancers only.

18. No alcohol or drugs are allowed at powwows.


19. If taking pictures, asked the dancer first. Remember common courtesy and ask permission. Group photographs are usually alright to take, but you might want to ask the committee first.

Remember that in each area you travel to and visit, things can and will be slightly different than your area. Different groups and have different customs and methods of doing things.

Different is not wrong, just different. Be respectful of the uniqueness of each Pow WowΒ and always be aware of proper Pow Wow etiquette.


19 thoughts on “Pow Wow Etiquette

  1. Sheila Crabtree says:

    Since my first visit to Cherokee, N.C. at the age of 6, I have been drawn to Native Americans. I discovered about 30 years ago that my paternal grandmother was 1/4 Native American, so I feel that must be why I felt such a connection. We have no idea of what tribe. She died at the age of 42, not long after giving birth to the 2nd set of twins. She had 12 children total, and all have passed on except for 3 (my dad being one and who is 81.) It has always saddened me that I never knew her. There are so many questions I would’ve loved to been able to ask her, especially about her Native heritage.

  2. Noreen Schaan ( Ironchild) says:

    This is so good to know for all who attend pow-wows.. even those of us who are First Nation people. So often people just don’t know to keep these things in mind. Either they are unaware or they don’t go to many pow-wow celebrations and are still unaware. Thanks for sharing this. Have a wonderful pow- wow attendance everyone! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’–πŸ‘

  3. I was not raised knowing about the Native American culture. As an adult, I “found” Pow Wows!!!! I attend them as MY church. The “energy” at these gatherings superceeds anything I have found any where else. Both of my daughters have attended them with me from when they were very little. As grown adults, they still attend the pow wows in So. California. My 1st grand daughter attended her FIRST pow wow thus June. We had a hard time getting her to leave the arena. As a 18 month old child, she just wanted to dance in the center with the other dancers. She too will become a follower of the pow wow culture. By the way, we are not Native American.

  4. Aho. My favorite thing in the world is Native drumming, singing and dancing. Both my maternal grandmothers were Native American and both were born in undeveloped areas of early Oklahoma and never obtained birth records, Social Security cards or anything validating our tribal affiliation. I was gifted a beautiful Turtle Dance shawl by a fellow veteran and it is one of my prized possessions. It depicts my veteran status. In which dances would I normally be welcome.

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