What is a Native American Pow Wow? – The Meaning of Pow Wows

Pow Wow are Native American gatherings that include singing, dancing, food, crafts, and reconnecting with old friends.  Pow Wows are a way for Native people to celebrate.

Pow Wows are held for homecoming, birthday, annual gathering, anniversaries – or just because!

There are several different stories of how the gathering was started. Some believe that the pow wow originated with the War dance Societies of the Ponca and other Southern Plains Tribes.

Native American Pow Wow Dancing

Another belief is that when the Indian tribes were forced onto reservations the government also forced the Native Americans to have dances for the public to come and see. Before each dance, they were led through the town in a ceremony or parade, which is the beginning of the Grand Entry.

Native American singers are very important figures in the gathering. Without them, there would be no dancing. The songs are of many varieties, from religious to war to social.

As various Indian tribes gathered together, they would share their songs, often changing the songs so singers of different tribes could join. With these changes came the use of “vocables” to replace the words of the old songs. Thus, some songs today are sung in “vocables” with no words, depending on the ceremony.

pow wows
American Indians gather for a drum circle. (Photo courtesy Jeff Miller / University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Yet they still hold special meaning to American Indians who know the song. Many songs are still sung in traditional Native American languages either newly composed or revivals of old songs. These songs serve as reminders to Native Americans of their old ways and rich heritage.

Dances have always been a very important part of traditional American Indian life. Most dances seen at pow wows today are social dances, which might have had different meanings in earlier days. Although dance styles and content have changed, their meaning and importance have not. The outfits worn by the dancers, like the styles of clothing today, evolve over time. It is not a stagnant culture, but a vibrant and changing way of life.

Gathering of Nations - Native American Pow Wow
Gathering of Nations – Native American Pow Wow

Pow wows are organized by a council that works for months before the event. At the pow wow, the emcee runs the ceremony events. The emcee works with the Arena Director to keep the conference or meeting running smoothly. These two individuals, along with the council, work hard to bring the people together for dance and fellowship in the circle.

The pow wow begins with the Grand Entry. This is when everybody enters the arena. This originally was a parade through the host pow wow town. Even today in some pow wows, these parades are still held. During the Grand Entry, everyone is asked to stand as the flags are brought into the arena. The flags carried generally include the U.S. Flag, Tribal Flags, the POW Flag, and Eagle Staffs of various tribes present. These are usually carried by veterans. American Indians hold the United States Flag in an honored position despite the horrible treatment received from this country. The flag has a dual meaning. First, it is a way to remember all of the Native Americans' ancestors that fought against this country. It is also the symbol of the United States which includes millions of Indians. The flag here also reminds people of those people who have fought for this country.

Following the veterans are other important guests of the pow wow including Tribal Chiefs, Princesses, Elders, and pow wow organizers. Next in line are the male dancers. The men are followed by the women dancers. Once everyone is in the arena, the song ends and a song is sung to honor the flags and the veterans. After a prayer, the dancing resumes, usually with a few round dances. After the round dances, intertribal dancing songs are performed and everyone at the ceremonial dances to the beat of the drum.

Find a Pow Wow in your state or province!

Pow Wow Information


34 Comments on “What is a Native American Pow Wow? – The Meaning of Pow Wows”

  • Avatar for Istaska



    Powwows were traditional gatherings were family and friends meet and sang and dance. Today big powwows are competition powwows dancers and singers are getting paid not our traditional ways.

  • Avatar for Whitebuffalo



    Bread and butter, as we were to come more reliant on the rations from the army, wagons of rations were withheld until a performance of our prayers was publicly displayed. This mistreatment is the origins of the modern powwow in which natives have shown that despite the cruelty you will see that singing and dancing are forms of praying

  • Avatar for Dortothy Drummmong

    Dortothy Drummmong


    Where do the Lenape people orignate from.

  • Avatar for kay




  • Avatar for Allen



    At work people always refer to meetings as powwows. For example, “ let’s have a quick powwow with the finance team to ….”

  • Avatar for john wilde

    john wilde


    I am most likely going to get a lot of grief for this , but I am a white man and feel that it is a very dishonorable thing that the white man has done to the Native Americans . I probably am not using proper terminology in what I say , but I like many others have been misled about many things in history throughout the world but we all can benefit if we all stopped and listened to our elders and each other and try to help each other learn and know the truth about ourselves as human beings and that is we are all not sure of what we are told and that is why we must always be alert and aware of what others want us to believe. Enough with the bickering and move forward , remember the past do not live in it . Live for the future. live for peace for us all.

    • Avatar for Sue Hirsch

      Sue Hirsch


      Yes, you’re right. We have to move forward, and to a large extent, that means making reparations……as much to the Earth as to the people that we’ve wronged. That is what they are asking for. They aren’t asking that we turn over a lot of land to them, that they used to own, categorically. They ARE asking that we give them servitor-ship of some of the land that they used to own, and allow them to TEACH US how to manage the land properly.

      They’re also asking that we stop interfering in their politics, and fishing in their waters and allow them to serve justice on those who trespass on their land and rivers since we refuse to mete out appropriate justice, ourselves.

      They could also use places to stay, when they’re traveling over distances to join intertribal events.

      Check it out at returncalifornia.org

      • Avatar for North American

        North American


        Then every nation can demand the same, countries who were conqured by the Ottoman empire, countries of today whose land has been taken away from them, WWI , WWI land that has been occupied and taken….every continent has had these same issues. But we are not going back hundreds of years to change that , instead we are moving forward and so should the Natives who used to make deals with the white man for years while it served them. White man did not come and conquer the Natives. They had been in business trading for a number of years previously. If anyone is to blame for the harm done it is the Church. The bully church who has done so many evils hiding behind the word of the Lord but forcing people to accept religion (made up stuff – we know how the Earth was created thanks to Science). So moving forward to today, if Native Americans want their old way back, then they should also stop receiving all the government funding in the millions that they DO receive. And also, the beautiful north america that we have built today is thanks to all the new settlers. So , shall we take all of that back as well?

  • Avatar for Vanessa Colon

    I always felt envious of the people who receive NATIVE AMERICAN NAMES for the mere fact that IM 100%,FULL-BLOODED CHOCTAW-♡. And only name given to me is my birth nameVANESSA♡♡.
    SO whatever name that you was given honor it and cherish it,you are lucky to have such an honor.♡

    • Avatar for Amigo Kandu

      Many tribes have a total of 3 names during life: Birth name, Adult name, Elder name.

  • Avatar for Patricia Ann Sterling

    Thank you very much for creating this website. I think its wonderful to have some information out there to share with others so that we can educate others on what it means to be Native American. I belong to the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I will be receiving my name on July 23, 2018 and I am very excited about this experience. I know you site will be a huge success and I appreciate that information can be shared in a respectful manner.


    Patricia Ann Sterling

  • Avatar for Susan Coyle

    Susan Coyle


    My husband is possibly 1/4 American
    Indian however we are not sure from which tribe my husband’s grandmother was full American Indian. We have names and dates of birth and death for her sisters.
    Where would be the best place to search his American Indian heritage.
    Thank you very much in advance for your assistance.

    • Avatar for Paul G

      Paul G


      Look here – newpowwows.www.powwows.com/am-i-native

    • Avatar for Laverne



      Try the bureau of Indian Affairs. They just need a little information and they will do the work for you. Good luck!

  • Avatar for Ellen potter

    I was 5 or 6, my parents took our family to South Dakota. At a Fort we danced with Indians and then were given Indian Names. At least thats what they said they were. Yet if the Sioux didn’t have Princess Names I guess I was fooled to. My Name is Princess White Buffalo.

  • Avatar for Divine Clarity

    Divine Clarity


    Is this website owned by white people?

    • Avatar for Paul G

      Paul G


      Thanks for writing. The site was created and is owned by myself = Paul Gowder. I am part Native. I am very proud that the staff of this site is made up of several writers and contributors from several different tribes. If you would like to know more, please email me [email protected].

      • Avatar for Nana Dyer

        Nana Dyer


        Where did you get your information? They lied! Like most history books! I’m a princess!

        • Avatar for Ellen potter

          You are a princess, whats your name and who gave it to you and when.

  • Avatar for Jackie Stanwood

    Hi I like pow wows my grandmother Nash had Cherokee heritage

  • Avatar for Jordan



    Natives did not have princesses

    • Avatar for Nana Dyer

      Nana Dyer


      Where did you get your information? They lied! Like most history books! I’m a princess!

  • Avatar for George



    Please keep me informed of powwow in my area and country

    • Avatar for Paul G

      Paul G


      Subscribe to our newsletter and check here – newpowwows.www.powwows.com/calendar

  • Avatar for Amy



    I love Indian culture and pow wows are awesome I’ve always wanted to meet real Indians and become friends with them I love their clothing their music and their dancing

    • Avatar for Samantha




      If you love Indian culture you may want to seek another website. This is a page about Native American Culture, which is not the same as the culture shared by people who are from India.

      Native Americans are not Indians. If you love the culture you will learn and respect that fact.

      • Avatar for Nana Dyer

        Nana Dyer


        Thank you for your directness! How ignorant can one be? Amy sounds like she was looking for a pet! Like she was from another planet and she’s an alien! Poor Amy!

        • Avatar for Johnny Rebel

          Johnny Rebel


          ^ Im lookin at you samantha smh.

        • Avatar for tfrank



          When making a choice between being right and being kind, always choose kind. Sometimes your snarky thoughts do not need to be articulated.

  • Avatar for ART Ackerson

    ART Ackerson


    Please add me to your mailing list

    • Avatar for Annie Grace Bassage

      Annie Grace Bassage


      Thanks for making this summary available. This website has a lot of valuable information.
      I hope to ttend a powwow for my first time, soon. Maybe this summer.
      Thanks again for this websir\te!
      Annie Grace

      • Avatar for Paul G

        Paul G


        Find one near you – newpowwows.www.powwows.com/calendar

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