restricted access 4. Traveling Circles
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4 Traveling Circles I was still on my bay horse, and once more I felt the riders of the west, the north, the east, the south, behind me in formation, as before, and we were going east. I looked ahead and saw the mountains there with rocks and forests on them, and from the mountains flashed all colors upward to the heavens. Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. . . . And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy. Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, in Black Elk and Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks Space and time contextualize and permeate Native American intertribal powwows , where individuals and groups of people, moving bodies, activate and organize spatial formations. Just as historically performative actions and performance practices embodied power, movement—as sensory experience, as spatial and temporal practices, and in the dance itself—contributes to the power of today’s powwow. In this chapter I invite the reader to join me as we metaphorically travel across the land on our way to “the powwow.” I also examine the spatial organization of powwow performance areas and the centrality of the arena circle where powwow dancers perform. Native world views incorporate a circular sense of space and time (Allen [1986] 1992, 2004; Collier [1949] 1995; Momaday 1987; Sarris 1993). Paula Gunn Allen argues for a politics of continuance instead of nostalgia, proposing that time flows around and through life, not backward or forward. She reminds us that the Indian universe constantly moves in a circular flux, in contrast to the linear, static, and exact idea of western time ([1986] 1992, 59). Nonetheless, the linearity of historical progression is visible in the persistence of Iruska through centuries of performance practices and in the orderly sequencing of the powwow’s Indians and Wannabes 54 arena program, which “officially” begins with a Grand Entry and ends with a closing ceremony. Circularity is present at powwows in spatial configurations, the way these events recur year after year, and in many performance elements. At powwow, this sense of space and time, which is both sequential and circular, creates a place where movement has no end or beginning, a place where a plane of time “composed of moments, ad infinitum, in perpetual motion” is enacted (Momaday 1987, 158). Some Native perceptions of space and time, the circle, and the hoop are specific to particular tribes. For instance, Tara Browner notes that “Northernstyle pow-wow uses two indigenous metaphors: the Sacred Hoop and the Sacred Fire. The former is from the Lakota people (including Nakota and Dakota), and the latter from the Anishnaabeg Three Fires Confederacy (Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodewaadmi). For the Lakota, the Sacred Hoop symbolizes a protective spiritual force that surrounds them. The Anishnaabeg Sacred Fire serves as a central focal point, bringing together the ‘Three Fires’—the three nations making up the Anishnaabeg Confederacy” (Browner 2002, 3). The Cherokee Medicine Wheel, which is round like the earth, the moon, and the sun, is based on the interrelationship between the four cardinal directions and the four sacred colors: east (red); north (blue); west (black); and south (white). Each of these has particular meaning. The Wabanaki, or people of the dawn (a generic term for all Maine Indians since the 1700s), visualize their history as a circle that is repeated over and over in the thousands of baskets woven by the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, Maliseet, and Abenaki tribes. Most Algonquian belief systems also emphasize the centrality of the circle: “The first thing the elders teach is the importance of the ‘hoop,’ or circle. Nature is full of circles—the sun, the full moon, the iris and pupil of the eye, a pond, a bird’s nest. When sitting in council, the Algonquian people sit in a circle, which is a symbol of equality as every person has an equal chance to be heard. The fire in the center burns a circle in the grass and leaves a circle of ashes behind. The gourd bowl they pass clockwise around the circle is round” (Pritchard 2002, 68). These are just a few examples of the differences and similarities in how tribal groups conceptualize...


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Ethnic identity.
  • Indian dance -- North America.
  • Powwows -- North America.
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