What It’s Like To Grow Up in the Powwow Circle and Not Come From a Powwow Family

What It’s Like To Grow Up in the Powwow Circle and Not Come From a Powwow Family

Without a doubt, at every powwow, they will be noticed; the kid with a mismatched outfit and either Tandy Leather Factory moccasins or simply socks and shoes. Like all little kids, they don't care what they look like, how they come off to people or what they do – they dance simply to dance.

I was that child. I didn't come from an extensive line of dancers, no one in my family or anyone I knew growing up was a dancer. I don't even recall my earliest memory from a powwow, but my mother has the pictures to prove it. I started dancing at age four, I'm twenty three now and all I feel is how much I loved and still loved it; there was no greater or more powerful feeling than being in the circle and being surrounding by so much love and support.

The friendships and relatives I gained from powwows are, in most cases, closer to me than my blood relatives. That isn't simply because my family aren't powwow people, the connection is just there. I've received advice and outfit tips and encouragement from people that I didn't even know, but to this day, are the first people I greet at powwows when I see them. This isn't to say that I didn't face many adversities… Oh, did I, and lots of them. I was teased, made fun of, laughed at. I danced funny, I never stopped on time, I wore my leggings backwards, etc. All of which many of us have gone through and I guess that's what caused the desire to learn more and keep dancing came from.


I practiced. I watched videos of my mom recording me and that's probably what helped me the most, by being able to see what I looked like and fix anything I felt didn't look good. She also taught me to bead and sew when I was nine, a hobby that I've kept up since then, so I never want for beadwork or outfits because I have the ability and skill to make my own. It was always just her and I at powwows, even though I have two brothers, so when I go to powwows that she can't be at or isn't up to going to, everyone asks where she is and how she's doing. My summer memories are of just my mother and I, traveling to local powwows every weekend.
In South Dakota, or at least on my reservation, a few of our schools started an organization; Teca Wacipi Okolakiciye, where every school on the Rez came together once a month to have a powwow and took turns hosting at their respective schools. It was here that I grew the most – we had meetings and even sewing club to learn about what we needed for our outfits, as well as dance practice. We were able to gain friends from other schools, compete in categories by grade, hold specials and even compete for TWO royalty, which also gave many of us practice for larger pageants and powwows.
I was a member of my schools dance club from third grade until I graduated. During that time, I learned so much invaluable experience and I cannot thank them enough for everything each of the dance club sponsors, other dancers and committee members taught me, as well as so many others. I have many awards from these powwows, including 9-12 Grade Girl's Jingle Overall Champion in 2010.



I also never carried titles from the TWO organization, though I did try for them in my younger years, I did hold titles for my district, school and went on to become Miss Oglala Nation 2009-2010 and compete for Miss Indian World that year, the only Miss Oglala Nation ever to do so. Coming from a non-powwow family, I'm extremely proud to be able to say that.


My dancing has also taken me to New York City, to perform at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2009.


I was also honored to be chosen as Head Woman Dancer at last years Oglala Nation Fair, my first head dancer experience.


My message with this post is to encourage anyone who has ever wanted to dance, to just do it. Start now, ask someone to teach you, learn how to sew, how to bead, ask questions, be respectful and most importantly, do not let the criticisms of others break you down.


Tara Weston is enrolled Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation, she is a Psychology major and aspires to be a counselor. She is also a freelance photographer, videographer and blogger. Keep up with her on Instagram @rwxse. 


12 Comments on “What It’s Like To Grow Up in the Powwow Circle and Not Come From a Powwow Family”

  • Avatar for Susan Wells

    Susan Wells


    It has been so encouraging to read all these comments and realize that I am not alone! Five years ago I spent time in SD and was privileged to be introduced to Rez life, powwows, sweat lodges and even Sun Dance. I have a Lakota friend who enabled all this to happen. From the first drum beat that resounded somewhere deep within me – my Native American heritage was awakened. I attend every powwow close to my central NC home. I have gradually made and received as gifts and bought my outfit. (Preferred name for Cherokees) I have not gotten the courage to dance yet. My great grandfather was NC Cherokee who walked The Trail of Tears Relocation. This was not spoken of in my mixed race family. I need help bi need someone to talk to – to help me find my place – know what to do and keep me from making embarrassing mistakes at powwow.

  • Avatar for Running Doe

    osiyo, I am so proud of you keeping your powwow, ways and dancing, you have to prove to your self what is in your heart, for others may try to bring you down, I am so happy you didn’t let that happen and you went on with dancing with a smile on your face, we are suppose to live in unity, love and harmony, most of all respect for one another, I use to dance in powwows a lot, I still love to do so to this day, blessings to you I am proud of you, follow your native ways, try to teach others, for if so the ways will never be for gotten, wado

  • Avatar for Running Doe

    This really touches my heart, and you never gave up that is a blessing for it is of our ways, when you dance you help heal earth mother, blessings to you you should be very proud, not matter what others say, the native blood runs thru your veins and into your heart,

  • Avatar for Olivia



    I have a question that has nagging me. In my family we do have pretty dense of American Indian Blood, yet no one really discusses it. I took an interest when I was in 3rd grade when I went to watch a powwow. Ever since there has been a connection that I can’t quite explain. Now, I’ve been to 3 more powwows in the past year alone; I feel so much at home and terribly happy when I visit them. I feel the need to go down to the floor and dance every time. I’ve discussed this with my mother and she approves of my thoughts and dreams of dancing in powwows, but she doesn’t seem pleased with it. My siblings do not approve and they mock me for it. I have a strong gut feeling that they are not proud of their heritage. I am only a quarter, but I’ve always wanted to dance in the powwows in my area. Is there anything at all I have to do in order to dance in powwows? Do you just go up and ask someone? I am scared since I’ve never danced in one before.

  • Avatar for Paul Hazelton

    Paul Hazelton


    My family was not a “powwow family”. I and my siblings were made aware of our heritage but not the particulars of it.

    My eldest daughter, two summers ago, won an internship with our tribe. While there, she learned to bead, made her own moccasins, selected the color motif for her regalia, and with the extensive help of an elder, prepared her regalia for her first ever Grand Entry.

    I can’t sufficiently express the pride I felt when I was there for that event. Not to mention it was my first Grand Entry I had ever attended (I have yet to dance).

    Now my daughter, being an adolescent raised in a Caucasian world, is in no hurry for Dad to enter the circle as anything other than a spectator. Her mortification would be profound! So she thinks she has the monopoly on our heritage and culture in our household. I don’t think she realizes yet my heritage is something I carry with me every day all day. Yeah, I might not know exactly how to smudge, and on what down beat to freeze, and why I can’t try my hand at drum making due to “philosophical/spiritual issues” But it is no less mine as it is hers. As she gets older (wiser) she will eventually come to the same conclusion.


    Potawatomi Dad

  • Avatar for Raymond cooper

    Raymond cooper


    I did not grow up in a powwow family. But I did what I could to get into powwows. Best struggle I ever had! I made a strong bond with all kinds of natives. Now the friends I learned from, I am now helping to teach their kids. An honor I am very proud of! We all need to do what we can to keep our traditions alive! To my powwow family love you guys and thanks for the lessons learned.

    • Avatar for Felicia



      I love ur story n it makes my heart full I am proud of u my.native sister

  • Avatar for Tracy Begay

    Tracy Begay


    I am white. I married my Navajo husband 18 years ago. I did not know anything about American Indians except what I was taught in school, which now i know was very inaccurate. My husband and I are blessed with 3 daughters. We used to take our oldest 2 daughters to PowWow when they were young and only danced in the tiny tots. My mother in law who is ShoShone Bannock taught me how to make tradional dresses and mocs of her tribe. But when my girls were to old for tiny tots and had to actually start to compete my husband said no more. One we couldn’t afford to put the amount of money into the Regalia to assure our daughters were with the current styles for Jingle, Fancy and Traditional with all the hyde. Two our daughters were being teased and discriminated against because they were “half breeds” of not only a white mother, but of mixed tribes as well. My girls were very sad to give up PowWow and my youngest who is now 7 has never even been. All 3 would love to try again but we still have these same issues nothing has changed. Do you have any helpful suggestions? I truly want my daughters to learn and live their culture and heritage and not the lies they are being told in school. Whenever possible my girls will perform what they know with the old outfits/regalia that we still have in order to educate the teachers and peers they attend school with. Any advice on cost effective Regalia and how to deal with prejudice would be much appreciated. Thank You

    • Avatar for Kate Scott

      Kate Scott


      Tracy, the Begay name is very strong throughout the Native areas (even in MI where we live)!!! Be PROUD of who your family is! 🙂

      Don’t allow people’s criticisms of you or your girls keep you down. We’ve made great strides in “half breed” issues over this way. I’m white, with a white/Native daughter (blonde hair, even… it’s bad sometimes, the stares and comments from people… “look at that little white girl tryin to be Native”) and my man is Native with two children of this own (thankfully they “look” Native so they get less flack.) Maybe people are more rude where you’re at because the tribal areas in the South are so vast compared to tiny plots of acreage up here… People are more accepting here.

      There is always going to be people who are rude, but there are also people who are wonderful, and caring, and helpful and will love that you’re teaching the children their heritage. It’s truly a dying art, the Native ways. The languages and the dances and arts and the stories are slowly fading away. We need to embrace any good we can to keep their heritage going strong and proud.

      In regards to affordable regalia, I know that there is always a pegboard at the local store with at least one or two posts about regalia for sale. Learning to bead, or taking a beading class with your girls would be a great leap in the right direction. Not only does it teach you how to teach them but it teaches them a trade/skill that they can use later in life as well. Look into if your rez offers any sort of classes or if anyone knows of someone who teaches out of their house. It would be greatly beneficial to start researching these things out your way. The internet is only one tool, sometimes you have to put the footwork in to get where you need to be…

  • Avatar for Stephen Duncan

    Stephen Duncan


    Many blessings upon you and all your relations – both those of blood and those of dance. Too many people never explore their heritage. So glad that you have and that you share it with others. May you continue to be a blessing to others.


  • Avatar for ndnwindrider



    very proud and happy for you…you’ve done well but even more importantly…shared your experience for others who may be struggling. may you all dance with air under your feet.

  • Avatar for LittlePAW



    I am 78, have always had the highest admiration and respect for our Native Americans, our military, fire fighters and our law enforcement. I’ve gone to many PAWWOWs but because I don’t know how to dance, I never dared to join in. I wish I could learn to dance as well as learn and understand the songs.

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