A Brief History of Powwows

Competition powwows are held in a festival environment and invite both Native and non-Native persons to share the cultural experience through food, art and music, as performers compete for championships and cash prizes.

Chicago’s annual powwow is an expression of inter-tribal art, culture, community and educational endeavors. This event celebrates the presence and contribution of Native Americans in Metropolitan Chicago and the state of Illinois.

In the Chicago area, the powwow is a celebration of intertribal Native American culture. It is also a time to rekindle old friendships, reaffirm commonly held values, and share this vibrant cultural celebration with the Chicago community at large.

Historically, powwows evolved from ceremonials of the Grass Dance societies that formed during the early 1800s. While many tribal customs and religious practices were lost through government restriction, the Grass Dance was one of the few celebrations permitted in the new era. Diverse communities and tribes were invited to these celebrations. As a result, ownership rights of sacred Grass Dance items were transferred from tribe to tribe, giving birth to inter-tribalism through the shared experience of song and dance.

World War II revived the powwow, and in the time since, powwows have evolved to reflect contemporary conceptions of these traditional values. The use of brighter colors and modern methods of production in regalia design, as well as more rigorous dances, are some examples of the changes the powwow has undergone in the past 60 years.

Powwows are held to celebrate a variety of different occasions. However, the two most common kinds of powwows are traditional and competition powwows. Traditional powwows are for the purpose of honoring tradition, and retaining and celebrating native values. Traditional powwows are informal.