The combination of modern and traditional influences in ceremonial dress is not considered incongruous. The pow-wow has evolved in order to reflect the identity of present day first nation peoples



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The combination of modern and traditional influences in ceremonial dress is not considered incongruous. The pow-wow has evolved in order to reflect the identity of present day first nation peoples; this openness to changes allows the spiritual significance of the gatherings to thrive within native communities. In this respect, the manor in which pow-wow regalia has been adapted allows for the continuity of the native identity in the context of a 21st century setting. Instead acting as opposing forces, these elements of temporal significance work hand-in-hand to convey a complex sense of identity. The evolution of sacred dress is a reflection of identity in the same way a first nation person is defined by his seven preceding generations as well as his current societal standing. With this in mind, it is pertinent to examine connotation of change before it can be applied as a theme in indigenous culture. Before it is acknowledged, the concept must be put into context of progress. By itself, “change” is a static and implies two distinct categories of then and now. As the world changes and native communities face new challenges, adaptions are made in order to survive. Because the prevalence of new situations is a constant, what is referred to as “change” can be more accurately described as an evolution.

Ceremonial hair styles, for instance, have modernized in that most styles can be adapted once the dancer leaves a pow-wow setting. It would be incorrect to assume that all Iroquois or Mohican men wore their hair in the roach (Mohawk) style in the same way as it would be incorrect to assume that all people who listen to reggae music have dreadlocks. According to native-languages.org, traditional hair styles were the result of a combination of tribal identity, the influence of elders and individual identity or preference (“Traditional Hairstyles”). Though for most native people, the spiritual connection with hair remains, many tribe-specific and more elaborate fashions have been put to rest. The Seminole women’s bonnet or the Hopi Squash blossom hairstyles, in which hair was wrapped around large discs in order to give the hair shape, are rarely worn in modern ceremonial contexts. Similarly, artificial roaches constructed from colored animal fur are more convenient for male dancers because they can be removed after the ceremony is finished (“Hairstyles”). For present day indigenous people, it is popular to wear hair long (braided or loose) or to sport a shaved head (“Hairstyles”). In this way, tradition is upheld, but it an individual can function in a contemporary context.

Akin to the way the roach hairstyle has been adapted into a ceremonial headdress instead of becoming obsolete, other articles of pow-wow regalia have also harmonized with the 21st century Indian. The breechcloth(clout), for example, is almost never worn in modern situations. Traditional dress for men originally included this garment which was a swath of material that was tucked into the wearer’s belt in both the front and back. In formal situations, a decorative panel was adhered to the front of the breech cloth (native-languages.org, “Breechcloth”). In northern climates leggings were attached to the belt as well for added leg protection: this article of clothing resembled chaps more than the pant-like notion of leggings. Most modern dancers wear blue jeans or pants under their leggings or on occasion fitted cycling-type shorts for comfort and to also conform to societal morays of decency. Though the breech cloth is no longer worn, the tradition of the breechcloth apron has been maintained (“Breechcloth”). In this manor, historical dress is acknowledged and is also made more applicable to current lifestyles. Similarly, a dancer’s tobacco pouch may be used to carry tobacco for offerings, but it may also be utilized by the wearer to store his car keys or other valuables (Little Crow Trading Post). These details have not lost any significance after undergoing modernization, but rather they acknowledge the past. These topical adaptations to modern pow-wow regalia have if anything gained meaning because they represent the connection between old ways and the ways of today.

Ornamentation and the purpose behind garments has also reflects the flexibility of Native culture. The incorporation of the Sioux war shirt into the pan-Indian pow-wow is another example of the fluidity first nation culture. While, for the most part, the shirts are no longer used to represent bravery in face of battle, the war shirts still celebrate honor individuals have brought to their community. Achievements in academic, athletic and military fields make more sense in a modern setting (Minnesota institute of Arts, “Shirts of Power”). Although the types of achievements have changed, the wearer’s accomplishments are no less valuable to their community. Another way in which war shirts adapted with the passage of time is in the materials used for ornamentation. Decoration on modern regalia has also been influenced by the availability of materials and contact with out side communities. Because of trade with European immigrants, glass beads, tin and other materials were incorporated into the construction in war jackets and other traditional garments. Not only was the color pallet for clothing expanded, but western symbols, like the cross, began to appear in bead work (MIA, “Transitional”). Some changes also reflect images of the past as well as functionality. The grass on the Grass Dance regalia has been replaced by yarn, not only for durability, but also to imitate the undulation of prairie grass when the dancers move (Browner 51-2). In all these case, adaption does not signify a divergence from tradition. On the contrary, the evolution of ceremonial dress expresses the desire to honor one’s heritage and keep the culture alive in communities connected to the past and participating in the present.


"Artsmia: Exhibitions: Beauty, Honor, and Tradition." Minneapolis Institute of Arts. 26 Feb. 2009 .
Browner, Tara. Heartbeat of the People MUSIC AND DANCE OF THE NORTHERN POW-WOW (Music in American Life). New York: University of Illinois P, 2004.
"Littlecrow Trading Post Website - Dance Styles." Littlecrow Trading Post * Indian PowWow Regalia, Clothing, Gifts, & Home Decor. 26 Feb. 2009 .
"Native American Clothing and Regalia." Native American Language Net: Preserving and promoting indigenous American Indian languages. 26 Feb. 2009 .


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