An Indian Pow Wow

Yes, I am descended from cow boys and Indians. However, my whole life has been spent traveling back and forth across the ocean.  Somehow, I ended up with a very international personality, but I am still related to cowboys and Indians.  Once, I went to visit my brother in Oklahoma whose background is like mine.  He was born in England, and he talks to his kids in Arabic because he was fluent in Arabic when he was small and can’t forget it.  However, he is my younger brother, so he was younger when we moved to America.  He spent a lot of time in Oklahoma, just north of Texas, and married a girl from Oklahoma and really sees himself as Okie.  When I went to visit him while I was living in Romania, he and I decided that we had never been to an Indian Pow Wow, and since we were part Indian, we really would like to see one, and we wanted our kids to see it too.  He found a Pow Wow outside of Ponca City, Oklahoma for us to attend.

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If you have never heard of a Pow Wow, it is a big Indian meeting. Yes, people want to say “Native American,” but for many, many years, we have said “Indian,” and we have no trouble being part “Indian.”  Our grandparents and those before them lived in Indian Territory.  We are not ashamed of our history.  Our grandparents were ashamed enough because some were half breeds, so they didn’t sign the Indian role, but it doesn’t matter anymore. No one discriminates against us if they learn we are part Indian now, and why change the name?  Our Indian relatives have always been called Indians.

As for the Pow Wow, Pow Wows used to be just big family reunion because the tribes traveled around and made a pact to meet the other part of the tribe at a certain time in a certain place. However, today, it is a big Indian meeting of Indians from any tribe that want to come.  They ask you to wear whatever Indian garb you have.  Some come completely decked out from head to toe in Indian garb.  However, I have never had an Indian dress, and they are very expensive, so I just wore my jeans. The only thing Indian I have ever worn are dream catcher earrings and moccasins, Indian shoes. (In fact, I have made squaw boots, a kind of moccasins, and “a squaw” is an Indian woman.)  My brother wore his jeans, cowboy boots, cowboy belt, and cowboy hat.  Many Indians dress as cowboys today, and it is very fitting for my brother since we are descendants of cowboys and Indians.

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The Pow Wow was out in the middle of no where on a dirt road outside of Ponca City, Oklahoma.  “Ponca” is actually the name of an Indian tribe, and “Oklahoma” is a Choctaw word meaning “red man.”  Choctaw is the name of another Indian tribe.  The red man was one of the Indian gods, the god of the wind, and Oklahoma is a very windy place with red dirt. Oklahoma was at one time one big Indian reservation called “Indian Territory,” but now it is a state just north of Texas.

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The Pow Wow is set up with a circle in the middle.  At the very center of the circle, there are big drums with professional Indian drummers who drum at lots of Pow Wows. Around those drums is where everyone dances.  Around the dancers, there were people sitting in lawn chairs. We didn’t dance. We were some sitting in the lawn chairs as spectators.  Off to one side, there were tepees (the portable Indian house of the plains Indians).  On the other side of the dancers from where we were sitting, there were lots of temporary shops set up where you could shop for Indian paraphernalia.  You could buy cook books that taught you how to make things like Indian fry bread.  You could buy dream catchers and Indian beads. You could buy Indian head dresses, Indian clothing, and arrow heads.  Anything Indian you were interested in, you could buy there.

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I was very impressed because the Pow Wow was opened with a prayer.  Indians may have at one time had lots of gods, but they don’t worship them anymore, and most have never even heard of them now.  Christianity is the religion among the American Indians now.  The Pow Wow also had a Pow Wow princess, a pretty young woman who had been voted on and declared the princess of this Pow Wow.

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The most impressive part of the Pow Wow was the Triumphal Entry. It is a parade of all the people dressed in Indian garb parading across the Pow Wow grounds around where they dance.  There were guys in big head dresses, women in the white Cherokee buckskin dresses, and children with their feathers and moccasins.  They were all in Indian garb dancing together, and it was impressive and beautiful!

After the Triumphal Entry, there are different dances, and whoever wants to take part in them dances around the drummers sitting in the middle who are chanting as they beat on the drums “Hey, ya, hey, ya, hey, ya!”.  The most popular dance is always the gourd dance.  Usually, only the people dressed in the Indian garb are the ones who dance.

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At one point, I met an old man who was 100% Ponca.  He was very proud of himself because very few Indians are 100% of one tribe now a days.  The tribes are intermarried, and there are many who are intermarried with white men.  The old man told me that the American government liked to send him places in airplanes to represent America because he was 100% of one tribe.  He took one look at me and said,” Your Indian relative was kicked out of the tribe because she married a white man!”  (My aunt actually told me he was right about the part of getting kicked out of the tribe for marrying a white man.)  He was very arrogant and proud of who he was.  However, he was not dressed like an Indian, but like a cowboy.  When I told my aunt who is the family historian about this old man, she was thrilled with his response to me!  My grandmother always loved to tell me how much like the Cherokees I am, but the old man could easily see the white.  What thrilled my aunt was his ability to spot my family background without being told. Cherokees always spot me and identify me as a Cherokee, but I have a very international look and have been mistaken for different kinds of people all over the planet like Mexican, Romanian, Pakistani, half Japanese, English, etc.

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Yes, I have an international personality and have lived all over the world and speak several languages. However, my family background is cowboys and Indians.  My dad loved to sit and tell me stories about the Indians. He really wanted me to know where I came from. However, when I brought a form home from school asking me to tell what race I was, I knew I was more than one race and didn’t know where to check.  My dad said, “You look white, so check white. Always gather with the whites because white are in power and will always be in power.”  My grandmother could walk through the woods and knew every plant and whether or not you could eat it, and she taught my mother. However, when I asked my mother to teach me, she declined. I have learned a few things from her, though. Did you know that you can eat cattails?  The fuzzy part on top, if you take it off, can be used as flour.  Those are the kinds of things my grandmother taught my mother.  It is old Indian knowledge, but I am not an old Indian. I am descended from cowboys and Indians, and going to the Pow Wow was fun and educational for me as well a for my brother  and my kids. If you are interested in Pow Wows and Indian dances, you can find videos of Indian dances with the drummers drumming and chanting on YouTube.

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