Is a Algonquian term "pau-wau" or "pauau", which referred to a gathering of medicine men and/or spiritual leaders.
"Pau-wauing" referred to a religious ceremony, usually one of curing Powwow Dancers. In the 1800's the European explorers observing our religious gatherings and dances mispronounced the word as powwow. The Europeans began to use the term to describe nearly any gathering of Native people they experienced and eventually, we began using the term. As more First Nations people learned English, the more "powwow" became the accepted standard for us and non-First Nations people. A modern pow-wow is a specific event where both First Nations people and non-First Nations people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor our culture. Powwow dance activities are divided into two types, intertribal (social dances) and competition dancing. When intertribal songs are sung, all dance styles, all ages and genders participate, First Nations as well as non-First Nations, may enter the arbor and dance. A popular dance for non-first nations during an intertribal is the Round dance. It is an easy dance to follow as everyone joins hands inside the arbor forming a big circle moving clockwise. If there are many people participating, an other circle is formed inside the first circle that moves in the opposite direction. The Round dance creates a simple and fun activity that brings both cultures together for positive interaction. There is generally a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow-wows vary in length from one day session of 5 to 6 hours to three days. Major pow-wows or pow-wows called for a special occasion can be up to one week long.

Spirit of Dance

Dances at contemporary Pow-wow celebrations are social and competitive. Everyone is invited to take part in the social dances (eg. Round dances, Intertribal, etc.), and ‘Specials’ are danced to honor individuals. While many dancers take part in competitions, some dance just because they enjoy it. Dance is many things: it can be ceremonial, tell stories, heal the dancer and others close to them, entertain, inspire self-confidence and bridge generations. Above all, it is a celebration of culture and heritage.


The ceremonies of the Siksika centered upon complex rituals, transferred to the Blackfoot from the Sky Beings. In Blackfoot mythology ‘Tail Feathers Woman’ was taken to the sky country as a bride of Morning Star. The parents of Morning Star, Sun and Moon taught the intricate ceremonies to their new daughter who would eventually return to earth to teach the ceremonies to the earth people. Today those same ceremonies brought to us long ago are still thriving despite the ever changing world we live.

Prairie Chicken Society

The ceremony is held in a long lodge, and begins with a special form of prayer known as the Pipe Ceremony. Siksika Prarie Chicken Dance Following the ceremony, the man who pledges the dance, begins by singing his songs to the accompaniment of a rattle, while the others follow his lead. The dance is considered to have a strong spiritual meaning. The sponsor of the ceremony may have received instructions to do so in a dream, or he may have vowed to hold the dance, in exchange for the long life of a sick child. Throughout the night, other men serve each guest. The men who have never taken part before, are required to give gifts. This is practiced in all social dances to obtain the right to participate, but this is the only vowed ceremony where gifts are given in such a manner. These gifts are given to elders, who in turn, give prayers for the dancers. An offering to the spirits is also given, and is tied to the poles of the lodge.

Sweet Grass Smudge

Smudging is a cleansing process in which sage and sweet grass are burned. The sage rids a person of negativity, such as anger or ill will, while sweet grass draws positive energy. The smoke purifies us and lets Ihtsi-pai-tapi-yopa (Essence of All Life; Creator) hear our prayers. Many Aboriginals in North America use sweetgrass in prayer, smudging or purifying ceremonies and consider it a sacred plant. It is usually braided, dried, and burned. Sweetgrass braids smolder and doesn't produce an open flame when burned. Just as the sweet scent of this natural grass is attractive and pleasing to people, so is it attractive to good spirits. Sweetgrass is often burned at the beginning of a prayer or ceremony to attract positive energies. Sweetgrass "smudge"; the smoke from burning sweetgrass is fanned on people, objects or areas. Individuals smudge themselves with the smoke, washing the eyes, ears, heart and body. It is used in pipe-smoking mixtures along will red willow and bearberry, when it is burned, prayers,thoughts and wishes rise with the smoke to the creator who will hear them. Medicine men kept sweet grass in the bag with their medicinal roots and herbs.

Pipe Ceremony

Smoking the pipe was considered a sacred ceremony and was an essential key in most of our ceremonies and prayers. Pipes were often elaboratly decorated. Pipe stems were decorated with cravings or applied porcupine quill work. Blackfoot pipes stems are mostly always round and seldom decorated beyond a very smooth polish. Pipe smoking was so much a part of traditional Blackfoot life that every family has at least one pipe in it's possession. Pipes were made by skilled men and women who werepaid a riding horse for a good one. Blackfoot pipes had a distinct appearance though other pipes of other styles were obtained by trade and commomly used for ceremonial use, however, only the blackstone pipes of local make were allowed (and still are) shields.

Sacred Bundles

Sacred Bundles containing items given to the Blackfoot by the spirit beings of their world were used in ceremonies to renew connections with the spirits and to ask for help from the creator. When not in use, these bundles were hung along the west wall of the tipi's above the inhabitants as they sat or slept. The bundles were regarded as living beings that must be cared for as a child. Bundles were taken outside each day and hung on tripods. They were moved throughout the day so they always faced the sun. People avoided the bundles out of respect and were quiet whenever they were near. These bundles are individually owned and ultimately originated from an encounter with a supernatural spirit. These encounters take the form of dreams or visions, which are sought in a typical plains type of vision quest. A young man, often under the tutelage of an older medicine man, goes out to some lonely place and fasts until he has a vision. Many of these men fail and never have a vision. Individual bundles acquire great respect, especially those associated with success in war. Some of these are headdresses, shirts, shields, knives, and lances. Painted lodges are considered to be medicine bundles, and there are more than 50 of them among the main Blackfoot Clans. The most important bundles to the group as a whole were the beaver bundles, the medicine pipe bundles, and the Sun Dance bundle. The Sun Dance bundle was most important of the bundles to the Blackfoot Clans as a whole. .


Calgary Stampede

1912 was the year of the first Calgary Stampede. It featured cowboys and cowgirls, rodeo, vaudeville acts, and a parade with First Nations in full ceremonial dress. The first Stampede lasted only six days, and had approximately 1,800 First Nations in attendance. In 1923, the Stampede became an annual event in July. The Treaty No. 7 First Nations were asked to participate, and set up their tipis by the entrance to Sun Tree Park, which is now known as Indian Village today. In 1950, a misunderstanding concerning the way the Indian Village was to be run caused the Stoneys to boycott the Stampede. At this time, there were 30 tipis: 10 each from Siksika, Stoney, and Tsuu T’ina (the Blood and the Peigans were not officially part of the Village during much of the 1950s). The Stoneys were probably not missed too much because of the torrential rainstorms, which caused many problems with all the events. The rain was so bad, in fact, that the media ran stories about the Stoney “rain dances.” The misunderstanding was cleared up after the Stampede and the Stoneys returned with their usual 10 tipis for the 1951 event. As the years progressed, our participation with the Calgary Stampede has been instrumental in educating its visitors to the culture of the First Nations Plains People.

Strathmore Heritage Days

Strathmore Heritage Days, one of the largest rodeos in Canada, (other than the Calgary Stampede)- offers around $175,000 in prize money when the world's best cowboys and cowgirls test their skills against some mean rodeo stock. More than 400 contestants participate in events including saddle bronc, bareback, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing. Strathmore began as a community in July 28, 1883 When Canadian Pacific forces manually laid 6.38 miles of track across the prairies to set a record. For a town this was a significant stretch of track because it ended that day on the south side of what was later to become the unloading point for thousands of settlers.

Banff Indian Days

The Siksika/Blackfoot and other Treaty No. 7 First Nations people had been visiting the mountain areas near what is now the town of Banff for many years. They hold several areas sacred, and would perform ceremonies, collect medicinal herbs, meet with other (more distant) First Nations people, and engage in various sporting and cultural activities. In 1889 a rockslide blocked the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) near Banff, and it soon became obvious that CPR's passengers would not be going anywhere for a few days. The CPR manager had good relations with the First Nations people (then known as "Indians"), Contacted them, and asked if they could provide some entertainment for his unexpected guests. Though the 1889 activities were expected to be a one-time event to meet a particular situation, they were so popular that they developed into a regular annual feature, and were known as "Banff Indian Days". These continued until 1978, when various factors contributed to their demise. In 2004, some of the Stoney people, inspired and led by Roland Rollinmud - a well-known Stoney artist at Morley, decided to revive the Indian Days traditions. Their primary motivation was to re-introduce their young people to their tribal cultural traditions.

Drums & Songs

The Heartbeat of the People

Drummers / Singers are important to every pow-wow. They set up in groups around the outside of the dance floor and sing appropriate songs when called upon by the announcer. Each drum group has a lead singer who leads the group in drumming and starts the songs. Singers require great skill and stamina to maintain the pace and pitch of pow-wow drumming and singing. They must know a wide variety of songs for competitive and other kinds of dances. While many songs sung at pow-wows are traditional and have been passed down through generations, there are contemporary and new songs. Today, popular drum groups sell recordings of their songs.


Singing without drums is extremely rare and considered inappropriate. The drum accompaniment to songs is rhythmically independent to the singing but in perfect unison, "slightly off the beat", and "often related roughly by the proportion of 2:3," to the vocal pulse or beat level.


Traditionally, songs are considered to be given, completed, to individual Blackfoot people in visions or dreams. Though it is now accepted that music, especially white music, may be composed in the European influenced sense, the traditional view still greatly affects how songs and their creation or origin are considered. Songs are considered somewhat like objects, in that they may be created of components, but once finished become a unity. They may also be "given" or even sold. Some songs belong to everyone, some songs to just one person but may be sung by others, and some songs individuals save until times of great need. Two songs which may be aurally identical may considered different songs if they have different origins, i.e., came from different visions. Singing is strongly distinguished from speech and many songs contain no words, and those with texts often describe important parts of myths in a succinct manner. Music is associated closely with warfare and most singing is done by men and much by community leaders. "The acquisition of songs as associated with difficult feats--learned in visions brought about through self-denial and torture, required to be learned quickly, sung with the expenditure of great energy, sung in a difficult vocal style--all of this puts songs in the category of the heroic and the difficult."

Dance Regalia

Blackfoot Dance Regalia

A dancer's regalia may also be called their outfit. These beautifully handcrafted outfits are not costumes and is Never Referred To As a Costume! A lot of time, energy, thought and expense goes into the making of each outfit. Often pieces of the regalia are family heirlooms. Dance Regalia is created by the dancer or by a respected family member or friend. The feathers in particular are sacred and highly valued and cared for. Sometimes years have gone into the final completion of a dancer's regalia. Siksika dance regalia worn by today's dancers reflect a combination of different traditions. While some dancers may have very traditional dance regalia, many reflect the modern world's use of sequins, synthetic fabrics and dyes, yarn and other less than traditional materials. However, whether the dance clothing is made of traditional or modern materials, the use of traditional decorative designs and symbols.

Chicken Dancer Regalia

When dancing at a powwow, an eagle feather may fall off a dancer's outfit. As soon as it is known a feather has fallen, all dancing stops, the arbor is cleared, and a special traditional ceremony is performed right then. The feather is treated like a fallen warrior whose spirit must be cared for immediately. The ceremony is performed by four veterans who have earned the right to touch the feather--veterans who have earned honors in battle, The four veteran traditional dancers perform the picking up ceremony and a veteran who has been wounded in combat is selected as the "Brave Man" to pick up the feather with another eagle feather. He then recounts a war deed or special military story of his service and then returns the feather to its owner. A gift is given by the owner of the feather to the veteran and the drum of honor for the service they have performed. * Reference material by Becky Olvera Schultz


Ookaan- Sun Dance

The word ‘Okan’ is a term used to describe an event where a vow is made to the sun for the well being of a relative who may be gravely ill. A vow is an oral contract between an individual and the Sky Beings. Each summer when the Saskatoon berries are ripe, the Siksika come together to pitch their colorful painted tipi's in a large circle to observe the Sun Dance the principal religious ceremony, initiations, and feasts of traditional Blackfoot cuisine. The buffalo, considered the very source of life and the major symbol of the Sun Dance, influenced the time and locality of the ceremony, which were chosen by the proximity of the buffalo herds. The overall importance of the Sun Dance was the renewal of personal spirituality as well as the renewal of the living earth, a time when kinships within both social and natural realms were reaffirmed; and by doing so prosperity and social harmony would continue for another year. After moving the camp four days in a row, the medicine bundle of the ceremony, the Sun Dance lodge, are created on the fifth day. It is here were our people gathered, though only a few men actually participated. These men strove to obtain supernatural aid and enhance their personal power through sacrifice in order to become a more meaningful member of their society. The sacrifice required the participants to dance for three or four days while fasting and abstaining from drink. The rest of the Dance is considered scared and is not detailed on our website. The Creation is expressed in the Sun Dance by the use of symbolic objects that represent the attributes of various animals. Animals are viewed as wise and powerful and served as intermediaries between us human being and the Sky beings. Eagle is the chief of all creatures in the air and respected for his wisdom and wealth. The life sustaining buffalo was the central figure. Its' tongue, considered the most sacred part, was consumed as a sacramental food during the ceremony and its' skull was used to express the theme of rebirth as bone was presumed to be where the soul resided. The Sun Dance was an important part in reconciliation of killing the buffalo, which violates the kinship between animal and man. After the conclusion of the ceremony the lodge was abandoned and all animal objects left inside so they could return to the earth.

Kitokipaaskaan -The Prairie Chicken Dance

This is a very old dance still practiced by our people. It started out as a religious society known as the "Kiitokii Society". The Prairie Chicken Dance has its origins in Blackfoot Country. During earlier times there were not many dances practiced by the Blackfoot with the exception of , ‘ Kais peh pi sini, ’ or ‘ Parted hair dance,’ and the ‘ Owl Dance,’ danced by men and women together. The Chicken Dance has its origin from the prairie chicken’s spring time mating dance. The regalia worn by the chicken dancers have not changed much. Old Style Chicken Dancers danced in one area displaying intricate body movements and dance steps. Their regalia included a head roach, breech cloth, round bells, and a small feather bustle. The dance is done in mimicking the mating dance of the Prairie Chicken that we see in the prairies. This nature dance is seen in the early morning. When this dance is done at a celebration it is done as one of the many dances seen during many celebrations throughout Canada and USA.
How this dance came about was when a young man (Blackfoot) went out hunting. He came across these birds dancing in the tall grass. Being hungry as he was, he shot and killed one of these birds with his bow and arrow. He brought the bird back home and his family ate it. Later on, as this man went to sleep he had this dream. In his dream the spirit of this prairie chicken that he killed came to him. Asked why he killed him. The man replied "I needed to feed my family". The prairie chicken told this man that he was going to teach him this dance. He was to go out there and teach all the people this dance. If he did not do as he was told, this prairie chicken was going to come back and take this man's life. This was the deal this prairie chicken made with this man for taking his life (prairie chicken). It is a very sacred dance.

Grass Dance

Was absorbed from the Assiniboin in the 1890s- Several stories about the beginnings of the grass dance are told. One tells of the grass dance coming from the movements of the early scouts seeking a site. The grass being high in new areas, the scouts would dance in a special way to flatten the grass and make it acceptable for a new camp or meeting site. The grass dance movements also reflect warrior movements such as stalking the game or enemy and fighting the enemy (including one movement representing one of the warrior's legs being staked and unable to move and battling with this leg in a held position). The grass dance is often said to reflect the need for balance in life; each movement that is danced on one side must be repeated by the other side. Some people talk of the grass dance as a gift from the Creator to celebrate joy. There is rich lore surrounding this dance. The regalia for the dance is comprised of long strands of yarn, ribbon or fabric attached to a base outfit to represent grass or in some theories the scalps of enemies. A headdress called a roach is worn. The roach has two feathers attached in such a way that they rock or twirl as the dancer moves. As in all the dances, the dancer must move with the beats of the drum ending with both feet on the ground on the final beat.

Owl Dance

Social occasions, such as the Owl Dance, were fun times for people of all ages. People had the opportunity to relax, sing, dance, visit, and tell stories. It was at the Owl Dance where boys or young men could dance with girls they liked, under the watchful eyes of family members. Partners would stand side by side and with uniform shuffling steps, keep time to the drum beat, while dancing around a large circle. Girls or young women could also choose a dance partner for the Owl Dance. If a male refused a ladies offer to dance, he was required to pay her a gift.

Men's Traditional

Men’s Traditional Dance is one of the oldest forms of Native Dance. It comes from the time when warriors would return to camp and ‘dance out’ stories of battles and stalking the enemy or prey. The regalia are a very personal expression of the dancer. Traditional dancers wear single bustles made of eagle feathers, feathered roach headdress, beaded moccasins, and items worn by early warriors: breast plate, neck choker, ankle bells or dew claws. They carry shields, weapons, dance sticks, staffs or other items that symbolize their status as warriors.

Men's Buckskin

The Men’s Buckskin Dance was one of the original dances of the Blackfoot. Only Chiefs, Leaders, or respected gentlemen who have received the Headdress through ritual transfer, were permitted to dance in this category. The song is a slow war dance song as the men are, in most cases, elderly.

Siksika Hoop Dance

It's origin was training for warriors. The hoops represent the bushes,grasses and forest the warriors had to move through. The designs that the dancer makes with the hoops are of animal spirits. Buffalo,Eagle,Snake- these are identified by the way the dancer holds the hoops and drum beat. Some dancers are able to dance with over 40 hoops at once.

Siksika Women Traditional

Women’s Traditional Dancers are focused, graceful and elegant. They move very slightly to the rhythm of the Drum. Their simple steps come from the times when women did not dance in the arena, but stood outside the circle and kept time with their feet. Women’s Traditional regalia include a buckskin or cloth dress, fringed shawl folded over one arm, a purse, an awl and knife case on the belt and a feather (often eagle) fan which is raised to the drum in honor. Their dress, moccasins, and accessories are all finely beaded. The cloth dress is often worn instead of buckskin when the weather is very hot. Sometimes the cloth dress will be worn for the Grand Entry, and the buckskin for competition or other special dances.

Jingle Dress Dance

In this form of dance young women wear satin dresses adorned with jingles. It is believed that the chiming sounds made by the movement of the dancer have the power to heal the sick and suffering. Legend explains that the idea for this kind of dance came to a young woman during a vision. The Jingle Dress Dance is characterized by the dancer wearing a jingle dress while dancing with light footwork close to ground. The dancer dances in a snake-like pattern around the drum; her feet never cross, nor does she dance backward or turn a complete circle.