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The Powwow Is a Modern Invention

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Keith Goetzman, arts, American Indians, Ojibwe, culture, powwows, treaty rights, Indian sovereignty, American history, Ojibwe in Minnesota,

University of Minnesota-Morris powwow

Many American Indian tribes across the nation hold powwows that are basically megaconcerts, with tickets sold to the nontribal general public. Visitors often come away from these events thinking that they’ve gotten an authentic glimpse into Indian traditions and spirituality, a perception fueled by some tribes’ marketing. “It is truly an honor to attend a powwow,” states the web page of the Northern Colorado Intertribal Pow-wow Association Inc.—an honor, incidentally, that’s available to anyone with ticket money.

But what exactly is a powwow, and what are its ties to Indian tradition? Ojibwe historian Anton Treuer sets the record straight in the book Ojibwe in Minnesota, which was recently published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press:

Treuer points out that powwows have become big business. Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota spends more than $100,000 for prize money on its Labor Day powwow alone, not to mention the many smaller powwows it presents:

So remember that if you attend a large commercial powwow, you are more likely watching a sort of American Indian Idol than a sacred and ancient ceremony. It may be fun, and entertaining, and spectacular, but it’s probably no more traditional than the fry bread they’re selling at the food stands.

Because Minnesota has been at the epicenter of many Indian sovereignty, treaty rights, and social justice issues, Treuer’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in Indian history. From the fur trade and Ojibwe-Dakota relations right up through ugly public skirmishes over spearfishing and casinos, Ojibwe in Minnesota is a clear, candid, and authoritative overview of a people whose epic history is still unfolding.

Source: Ojibwe in Minnesota

Image by Nic's events, licensed under Creative Commons.