Lessons at a Pow Wow


This weekend I went to my first pow wow. When I arrived the drummers were playing underneath a canopy of poplar branches they had constructed the day before. In the background, kids were playing on the beach and swimming in the lake. People dressed in bright outfits adorned with stitched or painted wolves and flowers, feathers, bells and beads sat on blankets and chairs around the main grassy area.

People always notice you when you walk into an event with a big camera hanging around your neck. I had my zoom lens on so that I could take pictures without being too conspicuous. I hate to be that person.

Since this was a ceremony, I wanted to find out if there were any parts of the pow wow I couldn’t photograph. I found the pow wow’s spiritual adviser under the poplar shelter.

Instead of answering me right away, he took me aside and told me a story.

“I had a friend whose Kokom always cut off the end of the ham before she put it in the oven to cook. Her children followed this same tradition, as did her grandchildren. They never thought much about why she cut off the end of the ham until one day they asked her, and she responded, ‘I cut it off because it doesn’t fit in my pan.’”

His point was that many of the First Nation’s people believe that taking pictures of the pow wow’s grand entry is not allowed because that tradition has been passed down from generation to generation without question. The origin of that taboo on photographs dates back to the days when First Nations were not allowed to practice their culture for fear of being arrested or worse.

Those days are long gone, as should be the fear of photographing these events, he said.

His story got me thinking about how it’s so easy to take things at face value without analyzing the “why” or “how” of a situation. Assumptions can be a major roadblock. Maybe it was the drumming and chanting in the background while he imparted these words of wisdom, but it felt like an important lesson.

The next day Daisy and I went to Perrault Falls for the morning. The water was flowing ten times faster than the last time we saw it when snow was still on the ground. We drove home later, wet and happy, and crashed on the couch for some serious Netflix-binging. The yin to my adventurous, active yang.

Happy Tuesday, friends.