I was talking to this guy at the office the other day and I said "the staff are gonna have a powwow at lunch today and bounce some ideas off each other". He looked at me like all offended and said "Powwow? How you gonna have a powwow in the Board Room?" Where did the word powwow come from? What exactly is a powwow? Can anyone go to one? - Ellen K.
The simple answer ... from the Narragansett Tribe of the Rhode Island region in the USA.
The long answer ... originally it meant Native Healer or Priest. Two early examples of it's usage: 1646 - the Massachusetts Bay Colony defined "pawwows" as "witches or sorcerers that cure by help of the devil" (crazy, ain't it?) and in 1674 - one observer said "Their physicians are Powaws or Indian Priests"
The meaning of the powwow was expanded by non-Natives to include the ceremonies which Native religious leaders participated. Later, it was widely applied /accepted by Natives and non-Natives and used as a generic term to describe all sorts of gatherings.
Today, in NDN Country, "powwow" means a tribal or intertribal dance, fair, rodeo, celebration or other gathering. They vary in size from a small local school gym to the HUGE Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico - with thousands of people (its in late April).
Some styles of dance you will see include: Traditional, Fancy Shawl, Men's Fancy, Jingle Dress, Grass Dance, Chicken Dance and others. Some powwows have dance and drum competitions, others do not (usually called Traditional Powwows). Powwows can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days long (with breaks, of course).
For the most part, powwows are completely open to the public. There are even some songs here and there where everyone can dance ... like the Round Dance, Owl Dance and my personal favorite - the Rabbit Dance.
Lemme guess, it was a Native guy you told this to at your office? Happens to me all the time ... for some of us Natives, one just has to say the word "powwow" and we'll wanna know exactly where it is and, more importantly, what time is Grand Entry?
So when you say ‘powwow’ - and it turns out you weren't talking about an actual powwow - expect a little disappointment from us hardcore Natives. ITS JUST THE WAY OF THINGS.