POWWOW - Images Along the Red Road
April 26, 2008 5:34 AM   Subscribe

“We try to follow the footsteps of our elders, who cleared the way for us with their clean minds, hearts, and bodies. They walked in clean land, drank clean water, breathed clean air, and ate clean food provided by Mother Earth. This is the Red Road.” The powwow is an integral part of Native American life, offering the opportunity for peoples to gather and celebrate their spiritual connections to their ancestors, the earth, community, and traditions through drum, song, and dance. The photography of Ben Marra.
posted by netbros (12 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Lovely photos, great post, thanks!
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:03 AM on April 26, 2008

posted by amyms at 6:28 AM on April 26, 2008

Awesome, especially the portraits. We attended, for the first time, a local powwow just a few months ago and it was a blast. Try the frybread if you go.
posted by jquinby at 8:43 AM on April 26, 2008

Nice pics. As someone who has attended many powwows in my life, two observations:

--Fancy dancers are notoriously difficult to photograph well. The radial velocity of the tips of all those tassels and things means that a regular casual photographer (like, uh, me) just gets a blur, even using high-speed film. Keep that in mind for some of the crisp shots here.

--I like that the pictures try to show real people. Sometimes pictures like this taken out of context can have a "museum box" quality. I'd invite people to consider that these are folks with day jobs, accountants, nurses, car mechanics, and so on. Actually being there, you get the feel of people competing for prizes, the grandma in the folding chair with the cooler of diet sodas telling you "that's my grandson out there!". People selling stuff, some of it tacky, some of it nice, some of it the real raw materials people will take back to make their own regalia for next time. The "Honor the Veterans" procession. The smell of the frybread, but also the dudes sharing a pack of smokes next to it, the country music as well as the traditional drum groups on cassette.

There used to be this trope of the "vanishing Indian" caught in a museum setting, the bigger picture is that nobody's vanishing, this is a vigorous part of the American scene that's actually doing quite well.
posted by gimonca at 10:05 AM on April 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

These are gorgeous. My college was (well, is, I suppose) on the powwow circuit, and these photos brings me back to warm spring days and fry bread and the beauty of the dancing.
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on April 26, 2008

Great link. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 11:20 AM on April 26, 2008

i've been to quite a few powwows here in my town, and i'm always surprised by the pride in US military service.

i mean, the US military is largely responsible for the near-decimation of first nations people on the US mainland. i guess it just really surprises me that a)native people would be interested in fighting with any US military outfit and b)that the military pride would be SO strong.

at several of the powwows i've been to, the military pride almost out-did the native pride. and you can see it in these photos -- many of the beadwork designs honor the wearer's (presumably) service either pictorially (e.g. the flag, the marine corps crest, etc) or verbally (e.g. '7th infantry' sewed onto one man's vest).
posted by CitizenD at 1:23 PM on April 26, 2008

Somewhat along these lines, check out the documentary Gathering Together. It "shows the story of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe's first traditional regional potlatch in over a century as host of the 2006 Tribal Canoe Journey....Metis-Ojibway filmmaker James Fortier presents in Gathering Together the Muckleshoot Tribe's continuing story of cultural renewal...and their historic role as a host to more than 60 canoe nations from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii, who gathered for the first time on Muckleshoot territory for five days of traditional song, dance, giveaways, ceremonies and feasts...an intimate portrait of the Muckleshoot Tribe as they grapple with the struggle between modernity and tradition."

Not only is the documentary good, but people from the Muckleshoot Tribe came down to San Francisco from Washington for its showing at the film festival. They fed everyone there, and gave us t-shirts and copies of the DVD. They circulated the room with baskets making sure each and every person got one. I'm not typically into schwag like T-shirts, so I was surprised at how moving it was that these people I didn't know wanted to give me something, make sure I was fed, etc.
posted by salvia at 3:02 PM on April 26, 2008

yeah, that's right. "Chief Illiniwek" can suck it.

i agree that these show some of the reality of pow-wows--chiefly IMO, their *modernity*. their here-and-now-ness while being firmly rooted in the past. (gotta say though, that though all the pow-wows i've attended have actually been indoors, those shots on astro-turf kinda make me shudder. but then, just about all the dancers are using non-natural materials these days.)

i guess it just really surprises me that a)native people would be interested in fighting with any US military outfit and b)that the military pride would be SO strong.

first, it's about the whole idea of becoming a man being about becoming a warrior. and, you know... the poor in this country, especially the Indian poor, have not exactly had a lot of choices offered them in regards to "getting ahead." in my experience, the celebration is sort of a way to embrace those who've not just become "warriors" but have sacrificed to bring honor to the tribe. sometimes that sacrifice has involved swallowing history and spitting it back out in the mainstream culture's face. sometimes it just means taking what you can get and making the best of it.
posted by RedEmma at 4:36 PM on April 26, 2008

In case anyone wants to hear a really good lecture on the spirituality of the Red Road, try one of Shinzen Young's tapes. It's very interesting.

They play them sometime on KPFK (kpfk.org) and his tapes are available through shinzen.org. You can get a good idea of what he teaches from http://shinzen.org/Talk_Archive.htm.
posted by webnrrd2k at 3:47 PM on May 2, 2008

Stanford Powwow is next weekend - I can't wait!. Haven't been to a powwow in too long.
posted by rtha at 7:58 PM on May 2, 2008

« Older Staff Benda Bilili   |   The Rapture is Not an Exit Strategy Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments