Have you ever thought about attending a Native American powwow? Usually a three-day event, a powwow is a gathering of several tribes from around the region. Powwows combine beauty and pageantry with tradition and culture.
Powwows are held in many locations in the United States and Canada, so you likely won’t have to travel far to experience one. You can find a powwow in your area through the PowWows website or individual tribes’ Facebook pages. However, some powwows are larger gatherings of Native American nations and are spectacular events to attend.
Here are some North American powwows you should try your best to experience.
1. Gathering Of Nations, Albuquerque, New Mexico
The world’s largest powwow, the Gathering of Nations, has grown from a small weekend event to the most popular Native American gathering in North America. About 3,000 dancers from roughly 750 tribes across the United States, Mexico, and Canada descend on Albuquerque’s fairgrounds for a three-day celebration usually held on the fourth weekend of April.
From the spectacular grand entry, where dancers of all kinds enter after veterans carrying flags and eagle staffs, to dances involving traditional grass, fancy shawls, and more, you’ll be in awe of the colorful regalia on display and the skill of the dancers in the circle.
Gathering of Nations also hosts the Miss Indian World pageant. The winner is crowned on the last night of the powwow and spends the following year traveling around the world promoting Native American tradition and cultural awareness.
Finally, there’s a traders market, which features more than 800 artists, crafters, and traders selling wares from handmade jewelry and paintings to clothing and more. The celebration features lots of food options, including Indian tacos, or fried flatbread topped with taco ingredients.
2. Mahkato Wacipi, Mankato, Minnesota
Reconciliation is the theme of the Mahkato Wacipi. Mankato, Minnesota, is the place where 38 Dakota (Santee Sioux) warriors were hanged on December 26, 1862, following the Dakota War of 1862 in nearby New Ulm, Minnesota. It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history. For years, Native Americans avoided Mankato because of this.
Over the years, mistrust has given way to reconciliation. A 5-minute drive from the site of the executions and Reconciliation Park (which honors the 38 Dakota), Land of Memories Park welcomes hundreds of dancers from around the Midwest and Canada in an annual healing event. Native Americans and non-Native Americans alike are invited to attend the three-day event during the third weekend of September. Song, dance, storytelling, and food are highlights of the event.
3. Denver March Powwow, Denver, Colorado
About 100 tribes from across the U.S. and Canada send dancers and drum groups to the Denver March Powwow inside the Denver Coliseum. The event, which takes place on the third weekend of March, is one of a handful of spring powwows that are held indoors, but it offers everything an outdoor celebration does.
Visitors can sit in the arena and listen to the rhythm of the drums as the dancers move around the circle. Homemade Indian tacos are for sale, and vendors also offer handmade jewelry and accessories with colorful and elaborate beadwork and specially designed T-shirts that celebrate Native American life.
4. United Tribes Powwow, Bismarck, North Dakota
Held the second weekend of September on the campus of the United Tribes Technical College, the United Tribes Powwow in Bismarck, North Dakota, attracts dancers from dozens of tribes across the United States and Canada.
Song and dance are highlights of the event, as dancers move about the grounds wearing colorful regalia with handmade beadwork and designs. Dancers and drum groups compete for donations during this powwow.
Visitors can enjoy an Indian taco and browse the stalls featuring beadwork, accessories, and clothing.
5. Thunderbird American Indian Powwow, Queens, New York
The Big Apple celebrates Native American culture each year on the fourth weekend of July. About 40 tribes are expected to participate in this year’s Thunderbird American Indian Powwow, New York’s largest and oldest powwow, and hundreds of dancers will perform at the Queens County Farm Museum.
People attending the three-day event will enjoy a nightly bonfire lighting including song and dance. The powwow will also feature vendors and food concessions.
6. Native American Indian Association Of Tennessee Powwow, Nashville, Tennessee
More than a hundred dancers typically participate in the annual Native American Indian Association of Tennessee Powwow in Nashville. The powwow attracts tribes from the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and sometimes even Canada. The three-day event takes place on the third weekend in October.
Traditional Native American fare is available, as well as authentic jewelry, accessories, decorated hats, and clothing.
The Native American Indian Association represents Native Americans in the state of Tennessee. The state is the only one in the country without any federally recognized tribes, since they were forcibly removed during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.
7. Black Hills Pow Wow, Rapid City, South Dakota
Hundreds of dancers and singers, as well as thousands of visitors, participate in the Black Hills Pow Wow in mid-October. The Lakota gathering has been held annually for nearly 35 years. Honoring the history of the Lakota and the He Sapa -- the Black Hills -- the powwow seeks to share Native American heritage with visitors. The Black Hills are sacred to the Sioux Nation, who consider them the beginning of life. Dancing in a powwow there is special to participants.
In addition to dance and song, you can enjoy traditional food and shop at the marketplace, where you'll find unique and authentic Native American gifts.
8. Puyallup Labor Day Powwow, Puyallup, Washington
For more than 40 years, members of the Puyallup Tribe in the Pacific Northwest have gathered on the grounds of Chief Leschi School to celebrate their history. Attracting tribes and dancers from around the Pacific Northwest, the three-day event takes place each Labor Day weekend.
While most of the dancers’ costumes feature bright colors and beautiful beadwork, some dancers perform in simpler attire as well as different headwear characteristic of some Pacific Northwest tribes.
Dozens of vendors sell items such as drums, clothing, and Pacific Northwest tribal art. Be sure to try the huckleberry ice cream, a popular treat in the Pacific Northwest.
9. Grand River Champion Of Champions Pow Wow, Brantford, Ontario
Located an hour south of Toronto and about 90 minutes northwest of Buffalo, New York, the Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow originated as a celebration of the Canadian Six Nations (Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Tuscarora). It eventually expanded to include tribal dancers and singers from the U.S.
For more than 40 years, Native Americans have gathered along the banks of the Grand River to sing and dance at Chiefswood Park near Brantford, Ontario. Held on the last weekend in July, the celebration now attracts hundreds of dancers from across Canada and the U.S. Crafters and food vendors are on hand as well.
10. Winnebago Homecoming Celebration, Winnebago, Nebraska
Considered the oldest powwow in the U.S., the Winnebago Homecoming Celebration honors Native American military members and veterans. The Ho-Chunk (also known as the Winnebago) people have gathered on the last weekend in July for more than 150 years to celebrate the heroism of Chief Little Priest and about 70 fallen veterans.
The four-day celebration attracts tribes from around the nation, with hundreds of dancers participating on dance grounds encircled with American flags flying from poles. Concession stands offer traditional Indian tacos as well as fried corn and large turkey legs. Visitors to the powwow can also stroll through a sculpture garden that honors the tribe’s different clans.
11. Manito Ahbee Festival, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Ojibwe for “where the Creator sits,” Manito Ahbee is considered a sacred site among aboriginals of Turtle Island (North America). The Manito Ahbee Festival in mid-May celebrates Native American art, culture, and music.
The largest powwow in Canada, the Winnipeg celebration welcomes about 800 dancers, drum groups, and singers from across North America each year. The festival also hosts an indigenous music conference, an art show, and a marketplace where people can buy authentic jewelry, accessories, art, and more. Of course, there are plenty of great food choices available.
12. Spirit Of The People Powwow, Chilliwack, British Columbia
As the first powwow of the season for tribes of the Pacific Northwest, the Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack welcomes people to the great indoors. Since winter is still going strong in the middle weekend of February, dancers and drum groups from around North America gather inside a secondary school in Chilliwack, which is about a 90-minute drive east of Vancouver.
Participants perform traditional dances in brightly colored and decorated regalia. Food and crafts are available. The powwow doesn’t charge for admission, but it does accept donations.
Powwows are both community and spiritual gatherings, and people from all walks of life and all corners of the world are welcome. At most powwows, visitors are invited to participate in the dances; just ensure you conduct yourself in a respectful manner.
As you plan your powwow visit this year, check out these larger celebrations across North America. You’ll have a great time and make memories that will stay with you forever.