I spent this past weekend documenting a Native American powwow – the 13th annual Eastern Woodland Native American Celebration in Lancaster, Ohio. Powwows are intertribal celebrations of Native American heritage and culture, as well as educational opportunities for the general public. They evolved from one of the only dance styles originally permitted on reservations, and are now widely observed by different tribes throughout the country, and throughout the year.
I have attended several powwows since last summer, where I have focused primarily on the Native American flutists who perform at these events, whose music I have recorded for the OSU Religious Soundmap Project. Some consider the flute to be an inherently spiritual instrument – one that breathes the player’s intentions out into the world.
Powwows often center on traditional dance. Throughout the duration of an event, dancers of diverse tribes move slowly and rhythmically together around an inner circle to the steady beat of several drums. This circle is roped off from the general public.
While I have implicitly understood this circle to be a protected space, I was unaware that it held spiritual significance – until this past weekend, when I interviewed dancers Bob and Beth Moody. They described the shape as symbolic of the Native American spiritual worldview, and of how humans navigate life. Time moves in a circular fashion, Bob explained, and a person simply enters and leaves this circle at certain points. “There’s no beginning. There’s no end. We’re constantly moving,” Beth said.
But what struck me most was Beth’s connection of the circle to Mother Earth, and to many elements of nature, such as trees, birds’ nests, and eggs. “Everything in nature is round,” she said. “We created the squares.”
Thanks for looking!