Pow Wow Etiquette

Pow Wow Etiquette

People of all cultures are welcome at most powwows, including those hosted by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Guests are simply asked to respect the American Indian culture by keeping in mind the following suggestions:

  • Bring a chair with you, as there is often not enough seating for everyone. Chairs under the dance arbor (where dances take place) are reserved for dancers only. Chairs with a shawl or blanket draped over them are also reserved.
  • Arrive on time to keep the event running as smoothly as possible.
  • Do not enter the dance arbor after it has been blessed. The only time guests may enter the arbor is to participate in inter-tribal dances, round dances, blanket dances, or honoring dances announced by the master of ceremonies. Many powwows have a veteran dance, and everyone in attendance is asked to rise and remove their hats as a sign of honor and respect.
  • Remain standing and remove any hats during the entire grand entry — the master of ceremonies will announce when it begins.
  • Do not refer to dancers’ regalia (clothing) as costumes. These handcrafted outfits are given much thought, time, and expense.
  • Do not touch a dancer’s regalia without asking his or her permission.
  • Feathers are sacred. If one falls, do not pick it up. Leave it where it is.
  • If you want a particular dancer or group of dancers to pose for a photograph, please get their permission. If you are a professional photographer who may use the image in the future for a commercial project, please get permission from the dancer(s) and have them sign a release form.
  • Photographing dancers during competitions is usually acceptable. The master of ceremonies generally announces when it is unacceptable to take photographs.
  • Alcohol and drugs are prohibited at powwows.
  • Pay attention to the master of ceremonies, who often explains powwow protocol to help visitors learn and feel more comfortable. After all, visitors are supposed to relax and have fun!
  • Elders first! Native Americans highly value and respect the wisdom that comes with age. When eating, children and young adults serve the Elders, who always eat first. Never step ahead of someone in line who might be older than you, as this is considered very rude behavior.
  • Do not use Native American clichés or make “Indian jokes,” even if intended to be fun. Calling Native American men “Chief” would be considered very disrespectful, for instance.