Pow Wow Etiquette

Posted By Paul G July 24th, 2011

Pow Wows are one of the best ways to experience Native American culture in person.  

Keep in mind that while they are open to the public, Pow Wows are culturally significant events. 

Be respectful!

The following are a few tips for etiquette at a Pow Wow.

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, Head Woman Dancers, and Head Staff.

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. 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.

7. 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.

Image of Pow Wow Etiquette

8. While dancing at any Pow Wow, honor the protocol of the sponsoring group.

Pow Wows vary by region and tribe.  They may do things differently than you are used to.

9. 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.

10. The Flag Song, or Indian National Anthem, is sung when the American Flag is brought into the arena.

Please stand and remove hats during the singing of this song. It is not a song for dancing.

11. 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.

12. Giveaways

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.

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

14. 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 Wow and always be aware of proper Pow Wow etiquette.

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22 thoughts on “Pow Wow Etiquette

  1. John Zoll says:

    I danced fancy dance with my Boy Scout Order of the Arrow lodge in the 1970’s. What is the best way to show respect to the dancers and heritage in present day (2019)?

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