introduction icon

Flagstaff All-Indian Pow Wow

The powwow has enjoyed a long tradition (several hundred years) among Native Nations. The word powwow represents an Anglicized version of the Algonquian term “pau-wau” or “pauau,” which referred to a gathering of spiritual leaders or medicine men. The modern powwow likely has its roots in a Pawnee religious ceremony, dating to the early 19th century. As other American Indian communities—such as the Omaha—embraced the powwow, elements were added over time, including dances, speeches, gift giving, feasts, re-enactments of ceremonies for the public, sales of arts and crafts, parades, and rodeo.

Why celebrate on the Fourth of July? Federal law banned traditional dances until the early 1930s. Organizers of powwows recognized that linking the event to such a significant holiday would make it more difficult for Indian Agents to interfere.

From 1929 to 1979, the Flagstaff All-Indian Pow-Wow drew thousands of guests (100,000+) to town—participants and spectators alike. The story behind the powwow offers numerous angles: the cultural exchange, the mix of tribes represented, the “business” of organizing and promoting the event, social aspects, personal histories of dancers, cowboys, artists, and tourists, and the economic impact on the community. We invite you to explore the strong assortment of manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, moving images, and publications which help document the powwow.

Ms. Andie Belone, an aspiring archivist and member of the Hopi Tribe from First Mesa, Village of Walpi, served as the curator for this exhibit. Andie is currently a graduate student in the School of Information Resources and Library Science (SIRLS) at the University of Arizona. With a background in traditional and digital photography and internships with the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Northern Arizona, Andie brought knowledge, enthusiasm, and a keen eye for composition to the project. Many residents of northern Arizona (Native and non-Native) remember the annual powwow. According to Andie, her family jokes: “it was the Indian equivalent of Woodstock!”

Introduction  |  Early years  |  Recollections  |  Language  |  Final years