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Experience Native American culture at Wisconsin’s pow-wows

Visiting a pow-wow is a great way to experience Native American culture in Wisconsin. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

oneida pow wow wisconsin
Credit: Travel Wisconsin

Wisconsin is home to 11 Native American tribes, and a great way to learn about their history and traditions is by attending a pow-wow. Read on for more information about pow-wows and what you should consider before attending one.

What is a pow-wow?

A pow-wow is a social gathering for Native American tribes all across North America. These gatherings will move you with the unforgettable rumblings of drums and the heartfelt singing of songs handed down from generation to generation. 

Most pow-wows are held annually to commemorate an event or to honor veterans of the armed forces. Native Americans hold veterans in high esteem and are proud of their military service.

Today, there are predominantly two types of pow-wows: traditional and contest pow-wows. A traditional pow-wow will focus mainly on social dances and honor songs of the hosting tribe. A contest pow-wow will do the same as a traditional pow-wow, but will add contests for singers and dancers.

Contests are beautiful to behold as singers and dancers demonstrate their very best to wow the crowd and the judges. Contestants often travel great distances to compete and a crowd never leaves disappointed.

Is it open to the public?

Yes. If you hear of a pow-wow, consider yourself invited. Seating is often provided, but it may be wise to bring your own seating to outdoor pow-wows and remember to allow seating closest to the arena for the dancers and elders.

What is the best time to come to a pow-wow?

Pow-wows generally have processions called “Grand Entries” at 1pm and 7pm. Grand entries may be the best time to arrive in order to see all the dancers enter the arena in all their finery.

Is it a sacred ceremony?

Pow-wows are not necessarily sacred ceremonies, but there are elements that are considered sacred. Drums are held sacred by their singers and many pieces of a dancer’s regalia, especially eagle feathers, are very personal. Therefore, it may be considered inappropriate to try to touch them.

Dos & Don’ts

  • Don’t refuse a gift or food offered to you. Accept it graciously.
  • Do bring your cameras. Photos and video are allowed, unless announced otherwise.
  • Do stand and remove headwear when asked. Many songs are in honor of a fallen warrior or in honor of the flag.
  • Do bring your pocketbook. There are plenty of vendors selling authentic Native American food, jewelry and arts & crafts.
  • Don’t turn down an invitation to dance. Say yes…with a smile.

And, lastly, be prepared to experience the true beauty and hospitality of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes. To learn more about upcoming pow-wows and other events across Wisconsin, visit the Native American Tourism of Wisconsin’s website or Facebook page

A version of this article originally appeared on TravelWisconsin.com.