History of the Micmacs: Powwow etiquette

13 years ago

History of the Micmacs: Powwow etiquette

By John Dennis

The start of the summer season brings forth grass, flowers, annoying bugs and it also brings the Powwow trail. The Powwow trail, which starts at the beginning of the year, is held in numerous places. Some powwows are held by federally recognized tribes, while others are held by individuals who just love the powwow scene and then you have competition powwow.

The word powwow is derived from the Narragansett word “powwow” for “spiritual leader”, the word itself means gathering. In the Micmac language, we call it a Mawiomi, which for Aroostook Band of Micmacs is always held on the third weekend of August (this year it is held Aug. 19-21). Most events such as this are held open for the public, so long as they are drug and alcohol free. There are some protocols, such as in any event, that we go by, for respectful and traditional purposes.

The Grand Entry is held each day of the powwow, to start the beginning of the day’s event. Much respect is given at this time, the drums start to play, the dancers line up with their respectable flags and hats come off in the audience; except for those whose hat has an eagle feather. Many songs are sung at this time to commemorate the event, including the Grand Entry song, Veteran song (which has all the veterans come and dance within the circle), and the Flag song to post the flags. After the Grand Entry, then the dancing begins, the picture and audio recording can be made as well.

The Dances and songs that are seen and heard are all forms of prayers; the dancers have always been a very important part of life within the Micmac culture. Most dances seen today are “social” dances that might have had different meanings in the ancestral days of the Micmac people, and have evolved throughout the years to the social dances that are seen today.

Although the dance styles and content may have changed, their meaning and essential importance to the Micmac people have not. As most dancers are seen as performers, they have placed many prayers and respect toward their regalia. It is appropriate to ask permission before you take a picture or touch their regalia. Singers and drummers are essential to the Mawiomi, without them, there would be nothing to dance to. Most songs that are sung around the drum come from different varieties that range from spiritual to war to a social dance and change according to the different tribes. The drum is the heartbeat of our mothers and Mother Earth, which helps us to stay connected to her.

Traditionally, the host community’s responsibility is to provide an evening meal for the Mawiomi. The main meal may consist of foods that the ancestral Micmac people would have eaten such as salmon, moose meat, fiddleheads and other indigenous foods that were found locally. Traditional meals will be held at the Spruce Haven building on Saturday evening. Please have respect and let the elders go first, women and children next, with the men going last. This shows respect to our Creator and that we honor and respect what’s been given to us.

As most events do, we tend to have vendors at our events, although our events have Native American vendors that sell many crafts, supplies, Native foods and such. Any sort of piping material that is purchased is for spiritual reasons only, so please respect the artisans’ work.

This is the etiquette of attending a powwow — respect and honor. If there is anything that is quite difficult to apprehend or understand, please don’t hesitate to ask the people that work the event.

John Dennis is the cultural/community development director for the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.