It’s Pow Wow Time: The Gathering of the Internal Nations
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
— Chief Seattle, 1854
To many people a “pow wow” is just a cool production of Native American individuals dancing. However, I must admit that I’ve always been drawn to the culture for much different reasons. Initially, I was attracted to the dress and dance, as well as, traditional and cultural newness that I had never known. I always knew that the attraction that was much deeper an even a spiritual attraction to these beautiful people.
You have to understand that having been adopted and then hearing stories of my biological heritage hearsay is all I have to go on. For whatever the reasons I’m connected spiritually to the Native American culture. When I met my biological family I was first told that we all had native heritage going many generations back. It doesn’t take long to look at me and realize that there’s nothing 100% Native American about me. I like to consider myself more like a casserole. If you’re not from the South or don’t understand the term, Google ‘casserole’.
For years, I’ve tried to understand why I have such a strong attraction to not only the culture but more specifically pow wows. The Gathering of Nations Annual Pow Wow in Albuquerque, NM each year has since helped me come to several revelations. This particular pow wow is the largest in North America and is just as it says…..The Gathering of All the Nations. Not just one particular tribe such as Navajo or Apache but all nations of tribes are welcomed to attend. This pow wow also represents the carrying out of traditional dances and ceremonies which include dances of elders with children. The bright colors in the regalia, not costumes or outfits, are more modernized but beautiful nonetheless. The pow wow generally is held in a coliseum venue and the four directions: North, South, East and West are blessed by an eagle which is considered sacred. The meaning of the Eagle symbol was to signify courage, wisdom and strength and its purpose was as the messenger to the Creator. The eagle was believed to carry prayers to the Great Spirit in the Spirit World and also had a special connection with visions.
One general truth that threads throughout the Native American spiritual beliefs is the belief of Mother Earth. The Native Americans felt that the earth was our mother, the sky our father, and all things were interconnected. The many Creation myths of the Native American stress the mutuality and interdependence between people and other forms of life. There is mutual respectfulness required when interacting with trees, birds, and plants and also natural forces such as the wind and the rain. Their creation stories empathize that Creation did not just happen a million years ago and end there, but that the Spirit that first infused the world is still with us now and can be experienced as “immanence”, the spirit which imbues all things.
To many Native American tribes the Native drum contains thunder and lightning, and when it is beaten it helps to get the creators attention and it also helps contact the spirits of the Native American forefathers. There are those native peoples who also believe that the drum is representative of the
heartbeat of mother earth. Whatever the reasons for the traditions, which I’m still discovering, put it all together and the result can make the hair stand on the back of my neck and arms while bringing me to tears.
One if not the most important part of the whole pow wow is Grand Entry. This is where all of the dancers in each category are led out by a veteran guard and in front of them are the Elders, the most sacred. It’s a symbolism and feeling of being that can’t be written in words. Their spirituality and religion I totally respect. And yes there are certain ethics that must be upheld to remain respectful of traditions.
Outside the venue is a trader’s market that has vendors that alone could keep you busy all day long. Food vendors with Indian tacos, buffalo burgers, fry bread and roasted corn thoughts are dancing in my head. But the magic is in the environment by watching dancers and drummers carry out traditions of their ancestors. The coliseum is bursting at the seams with tradition and they’re free to do it without any consequences from the government. All while lightly dusted with the smell of sage and sweet grass.
Not being able to go this year is like a void and let me explain why. The beautiful Grand Entry instantly connects me emotionally and spiritually with my own ancestors. One time every year I can feel the level of comfort that cannot be felt at any other time. The drumming is a connection to my birth mom’s heartbeat that I long to hear and be a part of but never will. This is my comfort like I was wanted by her. Once again, total comfort. Like the safe feeling I get being around my brother Levi, this feeling is magnified 100 x when I connect with the protection of my ancestors and those who have crossed over.
This obviously is not everything that fully encapsulates all of the spirituality and religion of the Native Americans. This is how it helps me regain my own balance and peace in a world of utter internal and external chaos. My internal ‘system’ seems to gather and are all peaceful and comforted just for one weekend that we all like to call “The Gathering of the Internal Nations.