According to the Oneida Nation, “Pow Wow time is the Native American people’s way of meeting together to join in dancing, singing, visiting, renewing old friendships and make new ones.” It’s a way for a scattered people to come together in dance and song and reinforce traditions as old as the land. The upcoming 43rd annual Oneida Pow Wow showcases a heritage often suppressed, but never extinguished, as people of all ages of the Nation and the public come together to celebrate a rich heritage. We asked Lloyd Powlless, chairman for the upcoming ceremony to go into the particulars of the event.
Scene: Do you know how many nations might be present at the Pow Wow?
Lloyd: I don’t think I have that at hand. I wouldn’t even guess. They come from all over and it’s different each year. All the dancers, especially if they’re good look at the prize money. They look at if they’ve been there before, what they’ve heard about the Pow-wow, etc. If they were here last year maybe then they want to go to Red Lake Minnesota or Sault St. Marie because they’re kind of the same weekend. So it’s a little different each year, but they come from all over.
Scene: Tell me a little bit more about the dances.
Lloyd: Well they’re categorized, not by tribe but by style. There’s traditional dancers, men and women; fancy dancers, men and women; and then there’s jingle dancers, which is a women’s dance and grass dancers, which is a man’s dance. Our own Iroquois style is the smoke dance. So we’ve incorporated that in the last five where that’s a category also.
Scene: What differentiates each of these dances?
Lloyd: Well some of it is age. The fancy dancers are a little more athletic. The grass dancers and the jingle dancers are kind of medium. And the traditional dancers are usually kind of the older dancers. They’re a little bit slower. Their outfits are all different. Usually you can tell what type of dancing they’ll be doing by the outfits that they wear. The traditional dancers typically have a single, usually eagle feather bustle they wear on their back. It’s a large circular outfit. Anything after that is up to them. Their bead-work is usually different, from their own tribe or things that they’ve bought, had their family make for them or what have you. The fancy dancers have double bustles. And they’re much more ornate, colorful. Grass dancers have almost like a shredded outfit, so what they wear kind of looks like the grass. And it’s a different style of dancing. Jingle dancers are a woman’s dance. It’s actually a healing dance. And they have little cones, metal cones, all over that jingle [as] they dance. So that’s what that name came from. So once you look at the outfits and each dance you get to see the difference between each dancer.
Scene: What else can we expect from the Pow Wow?
Lloyd: There are several components. One is all the singing by the drums that come in from differnt parts of the country. [The singers] just go from drum to drum and they’re judged on some of the contest songs and some of the inter-tribal songs. Inter-tribal songs are just for open dancing. You don’t have to have an outfit or anything. And those kind of give a break between the various contests. Those are available to anybody, even non-Indians, anybody who wants to come out and dance. There’s an announcer that explains most of those things. When there’s an inter-tribal song they explain it’s a chance for everyone to come out and dance, and when there’s a contest song they explain that it’s just for those in that category.
Scene: And then there’s the food.
Lloyd: Fry bread is the most famous. People like to come just for that sometimes, but there are all kinds of food available. And the arts and crafts areas where all the native arts and crafts are sold. Some of the vendors make the products that they sell. Other times they get them from their community. They buy stuff from their community for resale when they go to the Pow Wow. So it’s a little bit different for each one.
Scene: Last year you honored the death of a prominent community voice. What is the message for the Pow Wow this year?
Lloyd: This will be the 43rd annual [Oneida Pow Wow]. Our theme for this year is the Oneida Code Talkers during World War Two. The Navajo Code Talkers are more famous but there’s a lot of other tribes that were code talkers. So we’re recognizing all of our Oneida Code Talkers at this Pow-Wow. They never cracked any of them; that’s why they used native languages, but the Navajos are more famous Code Talkers. And there are probably a lot more of them. But there are several other tribes. I think the Sioux, the Oneida, and other Tribes all had Code Talkers. If you had two from that tribe, of course then they could converse and give information in their language.