While American Indian pow wows for the most part present a welcoming environment of learning to those interested in Indian tradition, those unfamiliar with the customs should remember they’re spectators to another culture’s sacred rituals. With this in mind, following are some general rules of etiquette to which the conscientious observer should adhere.
1. The Master of Ceremonies will direct the action and make frequent announcements about what is happening in the arena. Listen to the M.C. at all times; he will inform the audience of appropriate behavior.
2. The Grand Entry, Flag Songs, Veteran Songs, and Memorial Songs are a few examples of songs during which observers should stand and remove headgear. Treat these songs with the same amount of respect you would afford the National Anthem.
3. Seats around the arena are reserved for the dancers. Ask permission before sitting behind a dancer, as he or she may have family who wish to sit near them.
4. Always ask permission before photographing a dancer. Many people may find photographing disrespectful. In addition, if you plan to use the photos for publication, make sure the dancer is informed beforehand. Don’t ever enter the arena to take photos.
5. Never, ever touch a dancer’s regalia. These clothes are not costumes. They are sacred items containing spiritual significance to the wearers. If a piece of someone’s regalia should fall off, do not pick it up. Point it out to the dancer, and he or she will retrieve it.
6. Respect Mother Earth. Don’t litter.
7. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden at pow wows. These substances have done much to destroy the Indian way of life. Bringing them into a pow wow is an insult.
8. Behave as you would during any other religious ceremony. A pow wow is not a place for vulgar, rude behavior or revealing outfits.
9. Instruct your children to follow these guidelines as well. Youth is no excuse for inappropriate behavior.
10. Don’t be afraid to inquire as to the appropriate behavior. Everyone wants to see the pow wow respected, and most people will gladly help you out.