-- Some 800 Native American singers, dancers and drummers
from throughout the Western Hemisphere will showcase their
talent in dancing and drumming competitions at the second
National Powwow in Washington, D.C., August 12-14.
Thousands of visitors from the United States
and abroad are expected to attend the three-day festival
-- a celebration of dance, music and culture hosted by the
Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American
Dancers representing hundreds of tribal
nations and ranging in age from six years old to over 50
years old will compete for $100,000 in prize money. There
is also a competition for drum groups.
The powwow “will be a wonderful opportunity
for the museum to share the thrilling experience of competition
dancing,” said Richard West, NMAI director and a member
of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
This festival is one of a series of events
that the museum is hosting to fulfill its mission to “enhance
the development, maintenance, and perpetuation of Native
culture and community.”
Participants from all over the United States
and Canada, as well as other Western Hemisphere nations
including Peru, Bolivia and Chile, have been invited to
take part in the festival.
The Smithsonian’s National Powwow
is one of several such events that take place regularly
in the United States, including the Denver March in Colorado,
the Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma, and the Gathering of
Nations Powwow in New Mexico.
Some Native Americans travel on a powwow
circuit. These dancers and drummers typically “get
in cars going from one powwow to the next,” explained
Leonda Levchuck, a NMAI representative. “Ours is just
one stop in many.”
The NMAI first opened on September 21, 2004,
and is the newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
It recognizes and honors the rich history and cultural tradition
of the Native American, a central figure in the history
of the Americas.
The museum and events such as the powwow
are representative of an increased interest in Native American
culture in the United States and worldwide, Levchuck said.
She remarked that a large number of reporters from the European
media, including representatives from the Ukraine, Russia
and Germany, attended the opening of the museum last year.
There is also a much greater acceptance
of Native American heritage and culture now, said Levchuck,
who is Navajo. “Fifteen to twenty years ago, it wasn’t
acceptable to say you were native,” she said. “Now
more people are interested in finding their native heritage.”
A research center in the museum allows members
of the more than 500 native nations in the Americas to learn
more about their ancestry. The museum, which is located
on the National Mall, also houses the most comprehensive
collection of American Indian cultural objects in the world.
The term "powwow" derived from
Narragansett, an eastern Algonquian language, according
to the Smithsonian. Its meaning has evolved over the years,
and in Indian Country it came to mean a "secular event
featuring group singing and social dancing by men, women,
A Smithsonian brochure on the National Powwow
describes the roles of the drums, singers and dancers during
a powwow. The head singer, who guides the drum, uses his
extensive knowledge of tribal songs to play both new compositions
and traditional songs that have been passed down from generation
Two broad singing styles characterize the
powwow — the high-pitched singing and fast drumbeat
of the northern Plains, and the low-pitched, slow beat of
the southern Plains.
Among the criteria that dancers are judged
by are how well they stayed in beat with the drums, and
the quality of their regalia.
During the three-day event, native food
and crafts will be available for purchase on site. Food
vendors will offer traditional cuisine including Indian
tacos, frybread, and corn soup, while award-winning jewelers
and artisans will sell authentic arts and crafts.
Powwow will be held at the MCI Center in downtown Washington.
is available at the NMAI Web site.
Washington File Staff Writer