The independent news organization of Duke University

What’s a powwow?

guest column

“Powwow." Noun: an American Indian cultural ceremony involving dance, song, socializing and honor.

When the average person hears the word “powwow,” their immediate thought is not the above definition. Instead, what comes to mind is some sort of every-day social gathering or meeting.

As a tribal member who grew up on an Indian reservation, it always strikes me as odd to hear this term misused in general conversations off the reservation. I purposely use the term “misuse” because the word powwow is derived from the Narragansett tribe’s language, and is constantly used within tribal communities for this specific type of ceremony.

It’s true that language is always evolving, to the point where we now have the word “ain’t” in the dictionary (our elementary school teachers are still cringing), but my fellow natives and I are still trying to recover what was taken from us during times of cultural assimilation. Right alongside that, we are also up against cultural appropriation and make major efforts to prevent others from trivializing what we hold sacred. It’s from these types of gatherings that we as indigenous people form closer bonds with our family, friends, and neighboring tribes throughout the U.S., but also show that our practices and beliefs are alive and well.

After reading this, you may be saying to yourself, “Wow, I had no idea!” or “That sounds amazing and I want to learn more about this significant cultural experience!” Luckily we, Duke’s Native American Student Alliance (NASA), are hosting our Annual Powwow on Abele Quad in April. NASA and the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) have been planning this event for quite some time and we hope you are able join us for a memorable affair. Jewelry vendors and a Native food truck are going to be there, and free powwow event shirts will be available. Prepare yourselves for this amazing experience!

Raymond L. Allen is a second-year in the graduate school and a Duke NASA member.


Share and discuss “What’s a powwow?” on social media.