After two long years, the Meskwaki Powwow returns for its 106th annual celebration. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Powwow Princess Irene Keahna (right) and Jr. Princess Sade Kapayou (left), followed by their families dance to the Honor Song, commemorating current and past princesses that have represented the Meskwaki tribe during powwow season. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Head Woman Dancer Yolanda Pushetonequa and Head Man Dancer Romeo Buffalo lead the Grand Entry Song on the final day of the powwow. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
This traditional religious Buffalo Dance honors the Lord of the Plains, the ending spirit of the buffalo. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
A Butterfly Dancer swirls around in her dance regalia during the Friendship Dance. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
The Pipe Dance is reserved for the protectors of the people and is the pride of the nation. The dancers honor the bravery and heroism of warriors by raising their pipes to the sky. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
The women smile and laugh as they perform the Swan Dance. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Originating after World War I, the Victory or Soldiers Dance is dedicated to the armed forces and honors every veteran for their service. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Romeo Buffalo takes a warrior’s stance during the Shield Dance. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Romeo Buffalo kneels as Jacob Youngbear dances around him during the Shield Dance. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
William Harjo of the Sequoyah tribe in Oklahoma plays the flute for guests from his booth, where he’s selling his CDs and hand-carved flutes. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Meskwaki dancers line up to serpentine around the arena to interpret the snake’s journey across the land. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Kids flow through the divided dancers during the Snake Dance, mirroring the shedding of a snake’s skin. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
All the powwow dancers encircle one other to characterize a snake coiling up for hibernation. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
As the Meskwaki dancers divide into rows, they begin to dance harder and faster as they approach a pole in the grass. They hop over the pole to portray the snake’s coming into the new world. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
Women’s Jingle dancers’ outfits, covered in rolled metal cones, clatter against one another, making a unique sound that adds to the drumbeat and movements as they dance towards the new world. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
The old bears were requested to perform a finale of the Snake Dance. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush
After three years of wading through the pandemic, the Meskwaki Powwow — a celebration of the tribe’s religious beliefs and social tradition — returned for its 106th iteration from August 11-14. It is the only event of its kind in the world.
The modern-day powwow has been adapted from the Meskwaki’s “Green Corn Dance,” an old traditional event celebrating the fall harvest that lasted upwards of three weeks. The tribe would gather for a feast and then preserve the surplus of crops for the winter months. Traditional dance and song would ring throughout the village, along with horse racing, gambling, and games. After the festival’s closing, families would return to their winter hunting grounds until the following spring.
The diversity of the Meskwaki tribe shines through their dazzling dance regalia. The elaborate outfits seen at the powwow have been preserved for generations. Powwow dance regalia is an art form. Some individuals take years to design, sew and tailor their outfits, while others have theirs passed down to them and some purchase a handcrafted outfit from Native artisans — representing the Meskwaki Tribe’s history and expression of one’s heritage while still celebrating individualism.
The Meskwaki keep traditional elements alive through dance techniques and styles. As dancers glide through the arena, guided by the drumming and singing, they sway, twirl, crouch, and dash around, writing stories with their movement. Particular drumbeats lead dancers to bounce, leap or tap in tune with the music.
While their movements appear fluid and effortless, they require great strength, perfect balance, and breath control. Dancers must be in peak physical conditions to maneuver particularly tricky footwork and movements, all while wearing upwards of 40 pounds of regalia. While each dancer adds their own flair to their movements, there are traditional Meskwaki Dances that are divided between genders.
The Men’s Shield Dance is performed by two young men. Their movements tell the story of the battle and demonstrate their skills in hand-to-hand combat. This dance was adopted from Southern Plain tribes in the 1940s and is still performed today in remembrance of the Meskwaki tribe’s early contact with the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche tribes.
The Women’s Swan Dance is a tribute to the unseen shadows of those that have passed before them. This dance depicts the graceful movements of birds and the most majestic of all, water birds. As they dance backward, they honor the wind, thanking it for always blowing across the Meskwaki settlement.
The Friendship Dance is a universal dance amongst tribal nations welcoming visitors to the host tribe. It tells the story of companionship and goodwill amongst all humankind. The Meskwaki tribe invites all peoples of all walks of life to join together in this dance at the powwow.
The Snake Dance, performed on the final day of the powwow, is the longest and most strenuous dance of all. This lively dance includes Meskwaki dancers of all ages and is a favorite amongst guests. This follow-the-leader style dance tells the story of a snake’s journey through life. The dancers mimic serpentine movements, the shedding of a snake’s skin and coiling into hibernation before the snake crosses onto the new world.
Everyone is welcome at the Meskwaki Powwow. Indigenous peoples from across the nation and other tribes join Meskwaki during powwow season. Vendors sell native art and jewelry, traditional clothing, t-shirts, blankets, and even hand-carved flutes, pipes, and knives. The aroma of frybread, burgers, and pies floats through the powwow grounds. The Meskwaki Powwow is a yearly event where the Meskwaki Nation shares its unique traditions with the world.