Pow-wow season and variations in vocabulary

We haven’t done much pow-wowing since we moved East, other than the McGill pow-wow put on by First People’s House.  That pow-wow is great, but it’s really more of a small gathering which reclaims a bit of space on University grounds and tends to attract a lot of gawkers.

So I am extremely excited to be going to the Odawa Pow Wow this weekend, and I’m hoping this will begin an eastern pow-wow trail tradition for my family.  It is doubly exciting because this will be the first pow-wow my partner (a Chilean by origin) will attend, along with his daughters.  The fact that my partner is so interested in my culture is really life-changing to be honest.  I am still adjusting to the acceptance and respect he shows.  Then again, he spent most of his formative years in Saskatchewan so it’s not so unfamiliar to him.

I do feel very guilty, however, because I haven’t been a good pow-wow mother and neither of my daughters have the shawls or regalia I wanted to have ready for them by now.  I have been trying to get together with other women at First People’s House in order to get some of that work done, but scheduling is not easy when you’ve got people in school, working, and taking care of kids.  Nonetheless, this might be the incentive I need to just get beading!

In the spirit of the beginning of my pow-wow season, I figured a little discussion of the words used for ‘pow-wow’ would be good.

There is an amazing Facebook page that has really taken off lately, called Nêhiyawêwin Cree Word/Phrase of the Day.  With contributions from fluent speakers and linguists, this page has become an incredible wealth of information and discussions.  Recently there was a discussion there which compared different terminology used for the word pow-wow. Before this, I had only ever heard the following term used:

  • pwâtisimowin [pow-wow] (pwaa-TSI-moo-win)

As someone pointed out, this is literally the Sioux Dance:

  • pwâta [Sioux person] (pwaa-TU)

As an aside…the Sioux are also known as Stoney, Nakota/Dakota/Lakota, depending on where they live and which dialect they speak.  I grew up next to Alexis and Paul Bands which are Stoney communities, so I think it makes sense that the term ‘pwâtisimowin’ is the one I’m used to.  This term is also associated with the Grass Dance.

Contributors to the discussion on the Facebook page pointed out that in Treaty 8 territory, the term for pow-wow is:

  • mâskisimowin (maas-ki-SI-moo-win)

This is translated both as the Lame (crippled) Dance and the Tea Dance.  The suffix mâski- means lame or crippled. However, in other areas, this term is used for round-dances, which makes sense actually because when you round dance, you step with your left foot and sort of drag your right foot over.  However, I am more familiar with the this term for round-dances:

  • pîcicîwin (pee-TSI-tsee-win)

Another term for round dances in some areas is:

  • wâskâsimowin (waas-kaa-SI-moo-win)
  • wâskâ [around] (waas-KAA)

However, other communities use this term to refer to specific ceremonial dances.

The point is, the terms used really vary from community to community.  There are a variety of specific dances that all through Cree territory which are not necessarily the kinds of dances you will see at a pow-wow, but whose names may be used to describe the pow-wow itself.  There is obviously specific regional history involved in the evolution of naming pow-wows which is reflected in the variation in terms.

Cree is full of these regional variations.  They are a joy to explore, because in exploring them, you are exploring the unique history of the different communities and territories.  Comparing terms is not merely an academic process but is also a cultural exchange and it brings home the fact that speaking Cree is more than developing linguistic fluency.  It is also about developing cultural fluency.

For me, pow-wows are gatherings of native people.  That is the essential purpose and this desire to gather in the warm months has not changed over countless generations.  There is dancing and singing yes, and amazing regalia to feast your eyes upon…but more importantly there are the friends and relations you get to spend time with.  Okay, that and Indian tacos.

It’s okay to drool.

Alright, I need to pack.  For those of you already on the pow-wow trail, save some fry-bread for me!!!

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For more pow-wow specific vocab, check out these two sets of flash cards!

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Categories: Culture, Nakota Sioux, Plains Cree, Pow wow, Sioux, Stoney

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