The Native American word “pow wow” literally stands for “the one who has visions. A pow wow can be a term used to describe a meeting of the different tribes, or can be the title given to the shaman that is conducting the ceremony. To understand the significance of the pow wow in today’s native American society it is important to understand the origins of the ceremony.
Native Americans believe that when the world was created each tribe was given a unique relationship with nature and the world around them. They also believed that their faith could be strengthened through their connection with the earth. Therefore, in times of need or sickness Native Americans would turn towards nature for guidance.
They would have a meeting that included all of the surrounding tribes and would pray. A typical Native American prayer included sacrifices, sweats, and fasts. Through these prayers nature would answer their questions.
Eventually these meetings started to incorporate dancing and singing as well. To show their respect to nature many Native Americans would imitate animals during their sacred dances.
When Europeans discovered these sacred meetings they assumed that the term pow wow was referring only to the dance. However, the Native Americans actually were using the word to describe the spiritual leaders who were conducting the ceremonies.
Native American pow wows were later used to resolve conflicts amongst tribes over hunting grounds. They were also used as a means to prepare warriors and protect them. When the warriors returned home safely there was often another Native American pow wow to celebrate their victories and mourn their losses.
Some traditional communities still practice Native American pow wows. These meetings are usually meant as a way to honor their ancestors and preserve their heritage and often greatly resemble the pow wows that were seen in the 1600’s.