BENNINGTON, VT. — Contemporary American holidays and celebrations can be attended without specific etiquette, usually. But for a Native American powwow, there are some things to keep in mind before you go.

The 11th annual Rock, Rattle & Drum Powwow will take place at the Vermont Veterans' Home in Bennington, Vt., on Aug. 12 and 13. It's a time to honor veterans, native and American Indians through tribal songs, dancing and drumming, arts, food and overall culture.

Here are some general guidelines to know, provided by powwows.com and upcoming Rock, Rattle & Drum performers and event organizers:

• No drugs or alcohol are allowed

• If you want to dance, wear proper dance clothing

• Listen to the Master of Ceremonies (MC) and respect the Head Man Dancer and Head Woman Dancer

• Dance long and hard, but when not dancing, remain quiet and respectful

• Stand during Grand Entry when flags are presented

• Only veterans are allowed to dance for veterans songs, unless the MC says otherwise

• Ask the MC or dancers before taking pictures of the dances

Kimberly Bird, wife of Celtic Indian and headliner musician Arvel Bird, suggests women should dress modestly and behave politely.


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"None of us were alive back then, so we don't have anything in particular to be ashamed of," she said. "It's just a matter of respect. If I go to a church, I would dress modestly. The other thing is to ask a lot of questions of those natives. They're interested in sharing that part of the culture. They love educating people that aren't aware of it."

The event is dedicated to appreciating the culture of indigenous people, and being respectful is how the performers encourage attendees to welcome them into the community.

Asking questions is something those participating highly recommend as the event has some educational components to it. Co-director Fidel Moreno of the nonprofit Healing Winds mentioned that there will be times during the weekend for folks to sit in a teepee and talk with healers, educators and dancers. Aside from that, a performer can be talked to, just ask if they're available because they might be waiting to enter a dance, Moreno said.

"It's OK to ask dancers about their powwow regalia, but not OK to touch their regalia or the dancer's hair," he said. "If you go up to a dancer, they're more than likely to share with you what their designs mean and what the colors mean. That's all very appropriate to ask questions."

Event organizers encourage visitors to ask dancers about their regalia, but never touch it.
Event organizers encourage visitors to ask dancers about their regalia, but never touch it.

Moreno said the most common question he gets is if the event is just for Native and American Indians, but it's not.

"It's a gathering for friends and tribes to celebrate the common elements that sustain us as human beings — plant intelligence, air, water and sunlight, vegetation and earth," he said. "All those elements sustain us and they're the ones all human beings use. It's just through an indigenous lens, music and dances."

Throughout the powwow, the MC will announce intertribal social dances and invite the public to participate. This is where the Head Man Dancer, Head Woman Dancer and the Head Junior Dancers guide non-natives through the performance.

"It's very much a community and audience participatory experience," Moreno added.

For photos, as mentioned before, permission must be granted first. However, during Grand Entry when all performers and veterans enter the arbor, or main performance circle, photos cannot be taken.

Moreno said that ceremony is part of a prayer and kicks off the day's events each day at 1 p.m. Dancers can be photographed with permission, and might even want to be in a photo, Moreno said.

On Aug 12., the Southern Vermont History Museum will bring raptors; hawks, eagles, etc., and will have a program with them on Aug. 13 at 2 and 4 p.m. At 3 p.m. on Aug. 13 a special traditional blessing will be held for newly wedded couples.

Pairs will line up or be put in a circle and get smudged with an eagle fan or feather to ensure a good, long, happy, healthy life in marriage, Moreno said.

Kalpulli Atl-Tlachinolli dancers of New York perform a dance celebrating the groth of maize (corn) at the Rock, Rattle & Drum Pow Wow.
Kalpulli Atl-Tlachinolli dancers of New York perform a dance celebrating the groth of maize (corn) at the Rock, Rattle & Drum Pow Wow. (Photos by Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

IF YOU GO ...

Saturday, Aug. 13

10 a.m. – Gates open, arts and crafts vendors open

10:30 a.m. – Native American Flute, Arvel Bird

11 a.m. – Native American Storytelling

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Special Performance by Arvel Bird – Award Winning Native American flute player, violinist, storyteller and singer

Noon – Aztec Dancers, Atl-Tlachinolli, a traditional Conchera dance group

1 p.m. – Grand Entry of Dancers, Invocation and Welcome, Veterans' Honoring, Intertribal Dancing

2:15 p.m. – Children's Candy Dance, Intertribal Dancing

3 p.m. – Special Performance by Arvel Bird – Award Winning Native American flute player, violinist, storyteller and singer

4 p.m. – Intertribal and Social Dances

5:30 p.m. – Deer Dance, the Martinez Family from the Yaqui Nation

6 p.m. – Retrieval of Flags, powwow concludes for the night

6:15 p.m. – Aztec Dancers Perform, Atl-Tlachinolli, a traditional Conchera dance group

Sunday, Aug. 14

10 a.m. – Gates open, arts and crafts vendors open

10:30 a.m. – Native American Flute, Arvel Bird

11 a.m. – Native American Storytelling

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Special Performance by Arvel Bird – Award Winning Native American flute player, violinist, storyteller and singer

12:15 p.m. – Aztec Dancers, Atl-Tlachinolli, a traditional Conchera dance group

1 p.m. – Grand Entry of Dancers, Invocation and Welcome, Veterans' Honoring, Intertribal Dancing

2:15 p.m. – Children's Candy Dance, Intertribal Dancing

3 p.m. – Special Performance by Arvel Bird – Award Winning Native American flute player, violinist, storyteller and singer

4 p.m. – Intertribal and Social Dances

5:30 p.m. – Deer Dance, the Martinez Family from the Yaqui Nation

6 p.m. – Retrieval of Flags, powwow concludes for the night