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Indigenous History Month: Powwow 101

Have you ever been to a powwow? Would you like to learn more about what to expect at one? 

Natasha Kitpu-esk Lewis is an L’nu mother from Listuguj First Nation (Quebec), and Enhanced Home Visitor at The North Grove. She recently shared her insights and wisdom on powwows. 


If you missed our Powwow 101 program, you've come to the right place! Continue reading to learn about the cultural significance of these gatherings and for Natasha's helpful dos and don'ts! 


What is a powwow? 


A powwow is a social gathering held by many Indigenous communities to meet, dance, sing, socialize, and honor their cultures. Powwows can be private or open to the public and often feature traditional dances, music, food, and crafts.  


Powwows are often referred to as a Mawiomi, which means gathering. Mawiomis have been a part of Indigenous culture for centuries, evolving over time while retaining deep cultural significance.  


They serve as a means to preserve traditions, honour ancestors, and educate younger generations and outsiders about Indigenous heritage.  


What TO DO at a powwow: 


  • Be respectful – this is a culturally and spiritually significant gathering  

    • Approach the event with an open mind. 

    • If you are unsure about participating in certain activities - ask first.

  • Dress appropriately/respectfully 

    • How would you dress to enter other spiritually/culturally significant spaces (churches, mosques, temples, and others)? 

    • Wear modest, comfortable clothing suitable for the outdoors, and possibly for dancing. 

  • Listen and observe 

    • What are others doing? Are they watching, or participating? 

    • Pay attention to the Master of Ceremonies (MC) and follow their guidance. 

  • Participate when invited 

    • Join in dances or activities if they are open to all attendees and you are invited. 

  • Support vendors 

    • Purchase items from Native vendors at a powwow to support the community.

  • Respect the sacred 

    • Recognize and honour sacred spaces, ceremonies, and objects 

  •  Be Punctual 

    • Arrive on time, especially for grand entries and special ceremonies. 



What NOT TO DO at a powwow: 

  • Do not disrupt 

    • Avoid loud talking, disruptive behaviour, or any actions that might disturb participants 

  •  Do not take photos without permission and avoid flash photography 

    • Always ask before taking photos or recording videos, especially during ceremonies 

    • Flash can be disruptive and disrespectful, particularly during dances and ceremonies. 

  • Do not touch regalia 

    • Regalia (traditional attire) is often sacred. Do not touch it without permission. 

  • Avoid alcohol and drugs 

    • Powwows are drug- and alcohol-free events 

  • Do not enter the dance arena without permission 

    • Only enter the arena if invited or during times designated for public participation. 

  • Do not mimic or mock 

    • Avoid any behaviour that could be seen as mocking or mimicking traditions.

  • Respect Drum Circles 

    • Do not approach or interfere with drum circles unless invited. 


Powwows are rich cultural events that offer an opportunity to learn and participate in indigenous traditions. Being respectful, observant, and mindful of protocols ensures a positive experience for everyone. 


How to respect cultural protocols at a powwow: 

  • Understand Cultural Differences 

    • Each tribe may have different customs and protocols. Be attentive and adaptable. 

  • Follow the Lead of the Community 

    • Observe and follow the behaviour of community members to guide your actions. 

  • Learn and Educate Yourself 

    • Take the opportunity to learn about the culture and traditions being shared. 



Dance styles that you may observe at a powwow (in Mi'kma'ki) 



Thank you for reading. Remember to have fun and enjoy the food and culture!  


By following these do’s and don’ts, you help honour and preserve the significance of powwows. 

Written by Natasha Lewis, Enhanced Home Visitor.



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