COMMUNITY, FAMILY and SPIRITUALITY:
Powwows are sober events. No drugs or alcohol are allowed on the premises.
Acoording to Kenny Merrick, a Master of Ceremonies and member of the Devil's Lake Sioux Tribe, "A Powwow is a place where one learns to find within themselves who they really are. This is very sacred to us, the circle. And this is why we don't like to see alcohol or drugs involved in the Powwow."
Christina Gail, an Objibwe Jingle Dress Dacner from White Earth further explains that "My namesake told me, he said, when Indians drink and drug, they drive their spirits away. That spirit doesn't want to be around alcohol and drugs, so it goes away. And that's why people walk around lost."
Ed Godfrey, a Dakota/Lakota person and director of the Juel Fairbank Chemical Dependency services in St. Paul, says "The getting high from being out there dancing to a good traditional song, you know that feeling that you have, is a true type of feeling that's an experience for you that isn't artificially induced."
In contemporary society, alcohol use is problematic in the American Indian community. However, alcohol was not a substance used in early Native American communities. It was introduced to the Indian people a little over 200 years ago by the white settlers, most notably the traveling mountain men and fur traders. Many people feel that it is an unnatural substance for Indian people and that there may be a predisposition to addiction. Alcohol and drug addiction is a complicated situation. One needs to look at a physical cause, an emotional cause, social circumstances and the occurence of a spiritual loss. The appearance of white settlers in Native American territory, set forth a chain of events
Since itAlcohol addiction, introduced to the Indian nations only , has quickly weakened the fabric of a community that for tens of thousands of years was able to maintain balance. Powwow does the exact opposite of what drugs and alcohol do to a community. The Powwow highlights the balance of the community and brings people together with a physical, spiritual and communal connection. Perhaps one of the most interesting views is the role of Powwow and traditional ways as an element in recovery.
Buddy Whipple, a Mdewakanton Dakota man and member of the board of directors for Juels Fairbank Chemical Dependency services, told his story. "I'd go to Powwows, and I'd feel it. I can't describe it. It's just a feeling I had, that I wanted to dance, and I wanted to be out there, and it made me feel good. One of the things is that coming back from overseas and out of the Marine Corps I really abused alcohol. To me, a weekend just meant drinking. I got off work, went down to the bar, cashed my check, and of course I'd spend half my check there at the bar. Going to Powwows, it was a sober event, and the more I went to Powwows the more I liked it. I let go of the alcohol and drug abuse by gong to Powwows. And that's why I've always been real thankful that I found my way back.
For many people revisiting traditional ways has been an important tool. Ed Godfrey feels that it is no coincidence that alcohol is called "spirits" and used to fill up a "spiritual hole". Finding a healthy sense of self and community can greatly help recovering people. Powwows naturally provide such opportunities. Here is a place where it is safe and encouraged to be an Indian person, where the traditional and modern ways and values intermingle and American Indian people can celebrate their identity openly with pride.
Walter LaBatt, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota dancer, drum maker and artist explains his story. "When I used to go to Powwows, I used to drink and ...thought I had a good time. But I would see some of those Powwow people, how their lives had changed through going the traditional way. I used to feel somewhat, well, damn envious, because they could enjoy themselves and have a good time- you could see them dancing and having fun- without having to go that alcohol way. Without having to put something in your body to feel good. At first initially, I thought, well I'll just sober up and I'll be satisfied that way. But there was something lacking, something lacking inside. Sobriety made me feel good, but there was something lacking, and I didn't quite know what it was. I don't know. Luckily I stumbled and found the right way."