The 26th Annual Houston Native American Championship Pow-Wow

Gorgeous Jingle Dance competitors at the conclusion of their event.
A man with intricate adornments and tattoos.
During Thanksgiving time, many of us ironically forget about the native people of the United States. We won't recognize their culture or the pain the aforementioned upcoming holiday will trigger for those whose ancestors were marginalized and nearly made extinct in their own land. 

The Native American people are not simply Indians. They are a rightfully proud people with a rich culture. They have a variety of traditions, awesome stories to tell, gorgeous regalia, and intriguing dances. 

The pow-wow, the Narragansett word for "spiritual leader", is a meeting of Native American people which typically involves dancing. Within the pow-wow Circle, men, women, and children move their bodies in an impressive, rhythmic manner to the beat of drums and singing, the physical representation of stories passed down over hundreds of years. 
Couples taking part in the "two-step" dance where two lines are formed
behind lead dancers of each gender.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend the first day of the two-day 26th Annual Houston Native American Championship Pow-Wow last week. It was a gorgeous, clear day for a pow-wow with cool weather and generous sunshine. Native American dancers from several tribes exhibited many traditional dances for the crowd as well as for competition. There was also plenty of opportunity for attendees to dance and make monetary donations to the tribes. 

Blanket dancers about to begin their competition.
What a gorgeous day for a pow-wow!
I had the opportunity to witness four types of dances at the pow-wow: the Men's Grass Dance; the Woman's Buckskin Dance; the Women's Jingle Dance; and the Hoop Dance. 

Grass Dance

The origins of this dance—also known as the Omaha Dance—lie with the Northern Great Plains tribes. There are several myths related to this dance, yet the core meaning appears to be the fact that the intense, rhythmic movements flattens the grass under the men's feet. It's a fast-paced dance where symmetry is highly important as the dancers must repeat all movements on both sides of the body while simultaneously stepping to the beat of the drum. Therefore, this is a highly technical dance which demands both coordination and consciousness. 

Dancers at the ready!
Buckskin Dance

Women's traditional Native American dance varies by tribe; more generally, dancers from the north remain in one spot while hopping back and forth to the rhythm of the drum, while southern dancers move around the Circle slowly while bouncing. 

The movements of the Buckskin Dance mirror the Cloth or Blanket Dance with the only difference being the type of regalia worn. Naturally, the beauty of the Buckskin Dance lies in the long tassels which move with the dancers. Nevertheless, the women exhibit control and do not intentionally move their upper bodies, though occasional bending is a valid step.

Gorgeous tassels swinging.
The Buckskin Dancers presenting themselves to the judges.
Jingle Dance

This is an Ojibwe dance which has been shared for years with other tribes. It is also known as the Healing Dance. Legend says a medicine man whose granddaughter was sick had a dream where the gods told him to make a dress with chimes and have the girl dance in it to cure her illness. The dress was made, and the more the girl danced in it, the better she felt until she was finally cured. Thus, the dress worn for this dance is also called a Prayer Dress.

Watching—more importantly listening—to this dance is like being sent into a trance. The jingling of the dresses in harmony with the drumming is glorious, and the dynamic nature of the dance compounded with the rich colors of the costumes is truly magical.

The dancers lift their feet and stomp to make the dresses sing.
 Hoop Dance

"The Bird"
"The World"
The Hoop Dance originates from the Algonquian people. It is said that a boy named Pukawiss, not interested in hunting or typical activities boys usually took part in, strove to study and learn from animals rather than kill them. He demonstrated their movements to his people through dance, and eventually became a dancer and taught many in other tribes. Later, his dancing was accompanied by instruments and the hoops, which represent the story of life and the fact that every dilemma returns to the person who creates it. In other words, everything you do comes back to you!

Originally, the hoops were commonly made from willow tree branches, but now it isn't unusual for them to be constructed using pipping or other materials.

Free dance time for both competitors and attendees.
A Men's Fancy Dance
Getting primped before
the Jingle Dance.
The pow-wow was also an awesome place to people watch and generally be awed by the gorgeous costumes worn by the dancers and Native attendees. The pride with which each tribe wore their traditional wear was radiating. I personally have never interacted with Native people on a personal level, so it was a lovely experience. The fancy dress outfits were amazing, but unfortunately I couldn't stay long enough to watch the actual dance.
An assortment of decorative pieces.

Of course, there was an assortment of goods on sale at the pow-wow from decorative pieces to jewelry to woven blankets. I loved the handmade beads and bought a few, a perfect little token. 

All in all, the pow-wow was an amazing experience. If a pow-wow is scheduled around where you live, be sure to check it out! It's a great cultural experience.


  1. This is a great post! I was unaware of this event in Houston as I'm from San Antonio. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to see this event whenever I return home for a visit. By the way, here's a very interesting page that I recently discovered on Facebook.


    I happened to come across it while reading an article about a proposed documentary called, "Afro Native Narratives." Here's the link to the documentary's web site:


    1. Thanks! I think the organizers of this pow-wow travel around Texas/the country, so if you're back in San Antonio there *might* be a chance to catch them, it really was cool to watch.

      And I hope they go through with that documentary! I think it's a shame that we don't learn more about Native people in the States. It would be a really awesome educational tool.