American Indian Powwow 2024

February 3, 2024, 12pm – 5pm

NCSSM-Durham 1912 W. Club Blvd., Durham, NC 27705

Grand Entry of Dancers: 12 p.m. Noon
Intertribal Dancing: 12-5 p.m.

Indian arts and crafts traders 
No contest; just plenty of good singing and dancing

Head Female Dancer: Kenly McLaurin
Head Male Dancer: Brandon Locklear
Arena Director: Houston Locklear
Master of Ceremonies: Kaya Clark
Host Drummers: Southern Eagle, Young Waters

Location: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics — Durham campus
Charles R. Eilber Physical Education Center (PEC)
1912 West Club Boulevard, Durham, NC

Admission: $5 (children 5 and under free)

Powwow History

In 1991, the American Indian students at NCSSM decided to host their first powwow as a way of promoting the school to the American Indian communities of North Carolina. It was their hope that the powwow would communicate to the Indian people of the state that NCSSM is a place where Indian young people can get an excellent education not only in science and math but in the traditional teachings of their culture.

The American Indian students at NCSSM formed Akwe:kon, the Indian Club. Akwe:kon is a Mohawk word that means “all of us together.” The purpose of the club would be to serve as a support group for the Indian students on campus and to serve as a way to educate all people about the rich culture and traditions of American Indians. This is the group that hosts the powwow, in partnership with the Office of Admissions, year after year.

Powwow Breakdown

We want to promote our powwow as a friendly, family-oriented event for people of all races to celebrate and learn about the culture of the First Americans. The powwow commences with a Grand Entry of all the dancers. A Master of Ceremonies takes charge of announcing when events will take place and explaining what is going on. Grand Entry is followed by a Flag Song to honor both the American flag and the traditional flag of Indian people: the Eagle Staff. Next comes a Veteran’s Song to honor all those who have served our country in any of the branches of the military. The remainder of the dance session is full of intertribal and exhibition dances to feature different dance styles and categories. Specialty dances like hoop dances, smoke dances, round dances, and two-steps are woven into the dance program. Audience participation is encouraged by the MC on some of the dances. This is a traditional powwow that emphasizes intertribal brotherhood and sisterhood in addition to education about Indian culture. There are no dance contests. Typically, we are fortunate to have somewhere around 150 dancers and six drums in attendance. Our audience size over the entire day is approximately 2,000.

Throughout the powwow, arts and crafts traders are set up in the foyer of the gymnasium. Woodcarving, silverwork, beadwork, leatherwork, etc. are on display for educational purposes as well as for purchase. The powwow features Honor Dances for the Head Man Dancer and Head Lady Dancer. The powwow concludes with a Closing Song.

Dance Styles

The attire that the dancers wear is referred to by some as dance clothes, by others as regalia. Seldom are these dance outfits called costumes. Native Americans feel that costumes are things that are worn when someone wants to pretend to be something. Indian people at powwows are not pretending to be anything; they are being who they are. Sometimes Northern, Southern, and other terms are used in describing singing, dancing, and styles of dress at a powwow. Northern refers to Northern Plains (the Dakotas, Montana, Western Canada, etc.) Southern refers to Southern Plains (Oklahoma and the surrounding region). Woodland generally refers to the Ojibway or Anishinabe people of the Great Lakes Region. Southeastern refers to the Native American people on the Southeastern Coast, down to Florida, and over to Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Men’s Traditional Dance

Men’s Traditional dancing may refer to any style of regalia that is inspired by the style of ceremonial clothes worn back in the 1800s or before. Usually, Northern style dancers wear eagle feather bustles on their backs, tied at the waist. These bustles are simple in their decoration, using the natural beauty of the feathers maximum effect. This style of dancing is typically less energetic than Fancy Dance, but it has its own kind of intense energy. Dancers may imitate the movements of tracking an animal, telling a story of battle, or the dancer may be dancing for the sheer joy of dancing. Some dancers in this category have evolved into a new style of dancing called Contemporary Oldstyle. Here, more modern materials may be used, more decoration is employed, but still the style hearkens back to the old days. 

Women’s Traditional Dance

The regalia worn by women, whether Northern or Southern, is something to behold! The dance style is graceful and flowing. Among the different varieties are buckskin and cloth dresses. Women in the category carry a shawl over their arm, sometimes decorated with ribbon work and appliqué patterns.

Straight Dance

This style refers to Southern Traditional dancing and comes from several of the tribes that were forced to settle in Indian Territory or what we now know as the state of Oklahoma. Tribes that particularly embrace this style of dress are the Ponca, Kiowa, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, and in more modern times, the Comanche. These dancers typically do not wear bustles, but instead, wear long trailers down their backs made from either otter skins or silver “hairplates.” The Straight Dance has directly evolved from warrior societies that were prominent in the 1800s. These societies looked after the well being of the people and promoted values associated with good living. Many say that the name Straight Dance comes from the dignified posture of these dances, but these dancers execute elaborate moves as well.

Men’s Fancy Dance

Fancy dancing originated in Oklahoma in the 1920s and 30s. Originally, the style of dancing was characterized by elaborate, circular “fluffy” bustles tied to the back, neck, arms, and even knees. This has evolved to the use of two “U-shaped” bustles, one tied at the waist and one higher on the shoulders. Died hackle feathers from roosters are used to decorate the feathers in these bustles. The beadwork worn with these outfits is often quite elaborate. Dancers often use their artistic expression to add to their outfits. You can never know what you might see! The style of dancing is unlimited and athletic: spins, turns, hops, and splits are traits with these dancers. 

Men’s Grass Dance

Grass dancing is sometimes placed under Men’s Traditional and sometimes under Men’s Fancy. It has links to both. Grass Dancing evolved from an old style of dancing on the Northern Plains. Some say that this style got its name from the dancers that were sent out to dance the grass down before a ceremonial dance was to begin. Others trace the origin to warrior societies where the dancers tied braids of sweetgrass to their belts. This evolved to wearing braids of sweetgrass at the top of dance bustles worn on the back. Sweetgrass is used by many Native Americans for purposes associated with purification and protection. Some say it is braided to represent the hair of Mother Earth. Grass dancers today wear a modern outfit decorated with colorful yarn and/or ribbons. The movement of these dancers can often be imagined to resemble tall grass swaying in the wind. These dancers are known for the flexibility of their bodies and for their fancy work. 

Jingle Dress

Jingle Dress dancers make up a sub-set of Women’s Traditional. This dance traces its origin to a society of women dancers from the Anishinabe people. This society danced (and, in some cases, still does to this day) for the health of their people. The jingles that adorn these cloth dresses are often made from the lids of snuff cans. The material available to them! When these dancers dance, they offer a unique sound to the Dance Arena.

Women’s Shawl Dance

Shawl Dance is the women’s variety of fancy dancing. It is a comparatively new style having been around only for a few decades. Some call this “butterfly” dancing because of the appearance of the shawl that is worn across the back and around the shoulders of this style dancer. Others link this term to a story of a beautiful butterfly emerging from a cocoon after mourning for her mate killed in battle. The most evident aspect of this style of dancing is the fancy footwork and the spins that are combined with elegance and grace.