An Evolving Ritual

The National Powwow showcases a mixture of tradition and competition

(Photo by Walter Larrimore)

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In addition to the setting, regalia and dance styles, the duties of those working at powwows also shows the blending of the past and present of Native American life. Positions held by powwow leaders are direct outgrowths from ceremonial offices held by warriors in the war dances of the Great Plains. Today's "arena director," for example, polices the venue much like the "whip man" did in traditional times (although, he no longer uses a ceremonial whip to encourage dancers to their feet).

"The purpose of the powwow—no matter what tribe or urban area, like D.C., you are in—is about carrying on the gift and legacy from our ancestors that is song and dance," says Vince Beyl, an Ojibwa from Minnesota's White Earth Reservation who will be serving as the National Powwow's master of ceremonies. Beyl, a former dancer and singer, now attends 12 to 15 powwows a year.

"Seeing the spirit of the powwow amongst us, that's one of the most enjoyable things," he says. "It comes to life. You know it's there."


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