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What is a Powwow?

Michigan Photography: 43rd Annual Dance for Mother Earth Powwow &emdash;    

Powwows are gatherings that Native American people use as a place to meet, dance, sing and otherwise renew and strengthen our rich culture. These gatherings are held year–round and many Native people travel great distances to attend them. The Ann Arbor Powwow is one of the largest student–run powwows in the country, with more than a thousand of North America’s greatest singers, dancers, artists and craftspeople.

What's Featured at the Powwow?

Come and observe a Native dance contest with categories like Women's Jingle Dress, Women's Fancy Shawl, Women's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy Dance and Men's Traditional.

Hear the songs of some of North America's best Native singers and drum groups during our drum contest.

And don't forget to Take a minute or an hour, to shop at our Native American market, where some of North America's best Native artists and craftspeople will be showcasing their work. There will be everything from traditional crafts to contemporary artwork!

And don't forget to listen for the MC to announce intertribals to join in the circle and dance alongside competing dancers, all are invited. Even the little ones!


History of Powwows

The modern day Pow Wow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed during the early 1800's. The dances were an opportunity for the warriors to re-enact their brave deeds for all the members of the tribe to witness.

The growth of reservations gave rise to the modern Pow Wow. This was a time of transition for Native peoples across North America. Tribal customs and religions were outlawed. The Grass Dance was one of the few celebrations that was allowed into this new era. The Grass Dance became an opportunity to maintain some of the earlier tribal customs that were vanishing. As other communities and tribes were invited to these celebrations, rights of ownership of sacred items necessary to the Grass Dance were formally transferred from one tribe to another. "Inter-tribalism" began to emerge with the sharing of these songs and dances. Gift-giving and generosity were integral aspects of these early festivities, as they still are today.

The modern day Pow Wow bases itself on the fundamental values common to Native Americans throughout North America: honor, respect, tradition, and generosity. Along with their families, thousands of singers, dancers, artists, and craftspeople follow the "Pow Wow Trail" all over the continent to share and celebrate our culture.

As the 21st century approaches, the modern Pow Wow has retained its traditional roots while incorporating the inheritances of an ever-changing world. This melding of the old ways with the new results in an exciting celebration that can be enjoyed by all.


Powwow Singing and Drumming


The lead is the first part of a song. It is sung by the lead singer to introduce the song.


The second is a repeat of the lead that is sung right after the lead by the rest of the drum.


The body is the part of the song that carries the main theme. It is sung by all members of the drum.

Honor Beats

The honor beats are three accented beats that occur in between the choruses in southern songs. During northern songs the honor beats are thrown during the second part of the chorus. It is said by some that these beats represent gunshots, and many dancers crouch lower and keep their eyes upward in respect for them. It is also said by some that the honor beats show respect and honor and that they are louder than the regular beat so that the our ancestors and future generations can hear them.

This format of lead, second, chorus, honor beats, and repeated chorus makes one verse, or "push". The average song is sung with about four or five pushes, and occasionally, during a Grand Entry or when a drum gets an itch, a song can last ten or twelve pushes. The first push is always sung at a medium dynamic level and gets louder with succeeding pushes. At the end of a softer push, the Head Singer will pick up the tempo and volume to begin his lead. The rest of the drum will continue to sing at this louder section until the honor beats, when the song is brought down. When the Head Singer desires to end the song, he will motion with his hand to the rest of the drum that the song is ending, and at the end of the last chorus he accents the beat leading into the final three, five, or seven beats.

There are other ways to end a song, but this is the most common. Other options include trick stops, where the drum may stop at a very unnatural place in order to try to trick the dancers into overstepping after the song has ended, or the drum may simply fade away.

2017 Admissions

**Free Parking**

General Admission 

Adults - $10
Students with ID- $7
Children (6-12) - $5
Children 5 and under - free
Seniors (over 60) - $7

Weekend Passes 
Adults - $15
Students with ID- $10
Children (6-12) - $7
Children 5 and under - free
Seniors (over 60) - $10

Family Passes - $29 for 2 adults and 3 children (under 12)

Daily Group Passes*
Adults - $9
Students with ID- $7
Children (6-12) - $7
Children 5 and under - free
Seniors (over 60) - $7

*For groups of 10 or more. Please contact the committee in advance for securing group rates and submitting a group list.


Doors open at 10:30 am
Grand Entries at 12:00 & 7:00 pm

Doors open at 10:30 am
Grand Entry at 12:00 pm

2017 Tentative Schedule of Events

Admissions will be located at the main entrance


  • 10:30 am Doors and vendor booths open to the public
  • 11:30 am Drum roll call
  • 12:00 pm Grand Entry
    • Flag Song
    • Invocation
    • Veteran's Song
    • Welcome Address
    • Special guest spotlight
  • 1:00 pm Intertribal dancing
  • 2:00 pm Contest and exhibition dancing
  • 3:15 pm Tiny Tot exhibition (newborn-6 yrs old)
  • 3:30 pm Contest dancing 
  • 5:30 pm Dinner break
    • Hand drum contest
  • 6:30 pm Drum roll call
  • 7:00 pm Grand Entry
    • Flag Song
    • Invocation
    • Veteran's Song
    • Special guest spotlight
  • 8:00 pm Intertribal dancing
  • 8:30 pm Contest and exhibition dancing
  • 10:30 pm Grand Exit


  • 10:30 am Doors and vendor booths open to the public
  • 11:30 am Drum roll call
  • 12:00 pm Grand Entry
    • Flag Song
    • Invocation
    • Veteran's Song
    • Special guest spotlight
  • 1:00 pm Intertribal dancing
  • 2:00 pm Contest dancing 
  • 3:00 pm Tiny Tot exhibition (newborn-6 yrs old)
  • 3:15 pm Contest and exhibition dancing
  • 4:45 pm Powwow Committee Give-Away
  • 5:15 pm Grand Exit and Traveling Song
  • 6:00 pm Contest Winner Announcements

Powwow Highlights

Grand Entry marks the beginning of each Powwow session. Dancers line up behind the Head Veteran, Flag Carriers, Head Dancers and Princesses from different communities. The Head Veteran carries the Eagle Staff (the Native American flag) and is responsible for retreating the colors at the end of each session. Being chosen as the Head Veteran is a considerable honor, as is the case with the Head Dancers. The Head Dancers (one man and one woman) lead the dancers into nearly every dance, thus rendering them responsible for the direction of the Powwow.

The Flag Song is sung after the Grand Entry. It serves as the equivalent of a national anthem. It honors our veterans, past and present; those men and women who have fought for and defended our people. During this song all remain standing and silent.

The Victory Song directly succeeds the Flag Song, and it represents the spirit of the Powwow. It also honors veterans as well as our people who have exhibited great strength and perseverance.

Intertribals - These dances are those during which the MC invites people of different nations and ages to share the dance floor. Non-Natives are also invited and encouraged to participate. Intertribals provide an opportunity for dancers to socialize as well as warm-up for competition.

Contest Dancing - Dancers are divided into categories based on their age and dance style. The dancers are judged upon their ability to dance, the completeness of their regalia, and their knowledge of the song.

Honor Songs - The singing of an honor song can recognize a person or individual, the retrieval of an eagle feather, or the death of a loved one. Everyone should stand and remain silent during an honor song.

Dropped Eagle Feather - A dropped eagle feather represents one of our fallen warriors. Sometimes a dancer may accidentally drop an eagle feather from their regalia. When this occurs, the first veteran to spot the feather will dance by it, guarding the feather until the end of the song. The MC will then call on one of the drums to sing an honor song to pick up the feather. The Head Veteran will sometimes dance or will appoint another veteran to dance during the song to retrieve the feather by the song's conclusion. Once retrieved, the feather is returned to its owner who, out of humility and appreciation, will give the Head Veteran and his assistants a gift for their service. As Native Americans consider eagle feathers sacred, if an eagle feather falls from a person's regalia, we ask that everyone stand in respectful silence until the veterans complete their duty.

The Give-Away - The Give-Away is an integral part of a Powwow as it represents the generous nature of Native peoples. Give-Aways allow an individual(s) to mark the occasion of being a Head Dancer, receiving a name or clan, or dancing in the circle for the first time - just to name a few. Much thought and time is placed into a Give-Away.

Fry Bread/ Indian Taco - Fry bread was developed by Native nations from the commodities that were provided thorugh treaties from the Federal government in the later 1800's as a staple food for their diet. Today, the delicious inventive miracle of fry bread is often found adorned with beans, meat, shredded cheese, sour cream, or other taco toppings - referred to as an Indian Taco. This is a must have during Powwow's dinner break!

About our Vendors

Our Powwow includes one of the largest markets of Native artists in the Midwest. Representing tribes from across the country, our artists include sculptors, painters, basket weavers and craftspeople rarely represented in mainstream art events. Come out and visit our vendors and enjoy this one of a kind shopping opportunity!

Regalia & Dance Styles

The dancers' outfits or clothing, commonly known as regalia, are all handmade from various natural and synthetic materials. These may include sinew, yarn, cloth and hides. Friends and family members often help in the design and construction of an individual's regalia rendering it unique and very special. Often regalia displays elements that are important to the identity of the dancer, such as the dancer's clan. Please remember that a dancers' clothing is called "regalia" or "outfit", and not a "costume".

Six dance categories exist within the Powwow. Among the men there are Traditional, Grass, and Fancy, and among the women there are Traditional, Jingle Dress, and Fancy Shawl. Both styles of dress and dance indicate a dancer's category.

Men's Traditional - Telling of former war or hunting expeditions, these dancers preserve the old way of dancing. Through a combination of graceful and dramatic gestures, the traditional dancer tells his story. These men wear exquisite beadwork and feathers that are characteristic to their particular nation.

Men's Grass - Several tribes remember the Grass Dance as being part of the preparation in making a clearing for ceremony. The regalia is decorated with hanks of long, multi-colored fringes which sway gracefully with the movement of the dancers bodies reminiscent of the long, blowing grasses of the prairie.

Men's Fancy - Known for their stamina, high jumps, and quick footwork, fancy dancers literally dazzle. Their outfits are constructed of two multi-colored bustles (worn around the neck and back), matching bead work, and whips which are held to emphasize the elaborate gestures of these spirited dancers.

Women's Traditional - These dignified women are admired for the respectful manner in which they dance. Their feet never completely leave the ground, symbolizing their close connection to Mother Earth. Their regalia ranges from intricately sewn ribbon-work cloth dresses to beaded hide dresses. Most are covered with cowrie shells, elk teeth, silver, and other decorative objects. These women are referred to as the "backbone" of our nation.

Women's Jingle Dress - Based upon a young Ojibwe woman's dream, the Jingle Dress dance is considered a healing dance. Jingle Dress dancers are often called upon to dance for a sick or injured community member. Traditionally, 365 metal cones are secured on the dress representing each day of the year and a prayer is put into each cone. During the honor beats of a song, the Jingle Dress dancer uses her fan to spread the prayers into the four directions as the prayers are released from the "dancing cones."

Women's Fancy Shawl - Compared to butterflies, these light-footed dancers wear brightly colored shawls over their shoulders. Legend says that the young ladies and their shawls represent the transition from a cocoon to a beautiful butterfly. Beadwork and accessories match the multi-fringed shawls, creating a splendor of spinning and fancy footwork.