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The Greenback Dance! What Do Ya Think?

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  • The Greenback Dance! What Do Ya Think?

    The Greenback Dance: A Perspective On Powwow Competition
    By A Member Of Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, Ontario CANADA (Jan 3, 2005)

    Since ancient times the Amerindian powwow symbolized both an existence of a human race and spirituality.In the late-20th century a new distinction divided the powwow from its traditional roots to a form of cash prize competition. These greenback powwows have become so dominant that dancers diminish their identity and mock an ancient ceremony. In Canada and the United States the Amerindian powwow has spread from outside the reservation to large urban centers. A majority of these powwows consist of mainly competition dancing for huge cash payouts.

    The Gathering Of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico is the largest of the competition powwows. Various tribal nations consisting of dancers, singers, traders and spectators are represented at this April festival. Thousands of dollars are rewarded to the dancers who meet the winning categories. The powwow has an additional contest for the Miss Indian World pageant where several young ladies compete to be the head Amerindian princess. The Gathering of Nations does not represent the ancient tradition of powwows because it is mainly a contest for the greenbacks. This powwow paved the way for other huge events such as the Denver March, Ann Arbor’s Dance For Mother Earth and the Canadian Aboriginal Festival in Toronto.

    Competition powwows have influenced many youngsters to seek an enhanced personal status instead of protecting an ancient ceremony. As a result traditional powwows have suffered with poor attendance, and some changed over to competition in order to attract more dancers and singers. Some might suggest these greenback events are reminders that some Amerindians continually embrace the idea of assimilation into the mainstream. It’s been said if a powwow boils down to competition the dancers are less friendly toward the other. Poor handshakes, snickering faces and verbally denigrated exchanges reflect this coldness. In modern times a dancer’s regalia is seldom made with either buckskin or other basic material. Today the average male dancer will look something like a Buck Rogers space cadet because his outfit is made from silk with shiny decorations. Females tend to wear glittering transformed ballroom gowns with designs and designs sewed on.

    Nonetheless the theory of the ‘Cigar Store Indian’ surfaces as dancers outperform to please the White spectators. Therese St. Cyr, a Winnebago dancer from Nebraska wrote a column on competition dancing. She described how members within her family and community have been absorbed with competition dancing. The First or second prize enhanced the individual’s reputation as professional dancer, and the third and fourth prizes send others home angrily defeated. Some dancers have whined over their small winnings, and displaced contestants accused dance judges for fixing the votes. In other situations dancers and even the drum singers brought along their cult-like gurus to smudge and pray over them. The greenback dance has degraded the true meaning of the powwow ceremony. An individual dancer could characterize him/herself as being like a star on Broadway, rather than a spiritualist. Dancers share a common dream of being treated like stars in a movie like Graham Greene and Adam Beach. This kind of behavior would remind traditional non-conformists that other dancers have such inflated egos.

    In another scenario a champion dancer from Michigan was overheard bragging to a group of friends how he placed first at a championship powwow someplace. This same dancer even boasted about his wife filming him on camcorder while a group of young women massaged his shoulders and played with his double braided hair. The greenback powwow promises to change an everyday nobody into somebody. Amerindian elders spoke of a time when they were labeled with numbers because government-run industrial schools required it. The people of this generation are also required wear numbers in order to compete for selected dance judges. These are the individuals often seen standing throughout the arena holding clipboards. The significance of wearing numbers views times when the old ones were enslaved by a tyranny, and the youth who chose self-pride to enslave themselves. These competition dancers perform as acting ancient roles, but playing them makes the existence of the Amerindian less immortal. Dancing on green no longer resembles a field of grass supported by the roots its origin. The greenback powwow will continue to grow in unprecedented numbers as youth of this generation reject their tradition. These modern day warriors dance on the warpath alone against their greatest enemy, themselves.

  • #2
    Dancing for greenbacks

    I agree with you whole heartedly. I was tought when i was growing up not to dance for myself but to dance for my ancesters and those that have gone before me. That way the spirits of those warriors that have crossed over might enter the circle to guide me in my dance. To this day i either dance for them or find someone that can no longer dance and dance for them. To me that is the way of a warrior. To help those that need it means more than to just think of myself.


    • #3
      What a load of verbal diarrhea!

      It figures the author of this commentary is from Sagamok, Ontario.....another born- again traditionalist with no real knowledge of the history and etiquettes behind the powwow society. Enough said! Ancient ceremony? Funny stuff.
      You can't have a powwow without a drum!


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