In a Time of Social Distancing, Some Powwows Go Online5.1.2020
While social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic persists, a social media movement is connecting native powwow dancers, drummers, vendors, and visitors across the world through online powwows. The largest group on Facebook, called Social Distance Powwow, started in March and has grown to over 172,000 members. It was launched in response to powwow cancellations across the country, as a way to still bring native people together to perform, share their gifts, and be celebrated.
While it’s too soon to tell what will happen with the Cherokee powwow that traditionally takes place over the 4th of July weekend, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the importance of powwows and share some of the amazing Eastern Band members that have participated in the Social Distance Powwow.
A Family Tradition
Powwows are a chance for tribal members to honor and showcase their traditions and connect with other natives across the country. Typically, powwow families travel across the United States to perform and compete—something that’s not possible right now with COVID-19.
Daniel Tramper is the organizer of the Cherokee powwow, which is the biggest powwow on the east coast. He, his wife, son, and grandson all dance. "Normally, you travel with your family to powwows and you make friends as you go along. We all say 'powwow family,' and even though we compete, we take care of each other. We're one big family."
Tramper, who has been dancing since he was two and is a nationally ranked hoop dancer, says that especially for the young dancers, it's not about the competition.
"We want our younger ones to come out and learn the traditions," he said. "We're not always going to be here and we need our traditions to live on. In the Indian way, you always give back and share, and that's what you find at the powwow."
Eva Hill, 10, from Cherokee, NC, has been dancing for three years.
“JaTanna Feather started a dance class and Eva wanted to try it. She was very shy when she first started so we didn’t think she would stick with it but she loved it and we’re thankful that she’s so passionate about it,” said her mom, Mariah Mahan.
Eva competes in fancy shawl in the junior girls category. She’s placed in powwow contests in Georgia, Tennessee, and Cherokee. Eva misses dancing at the powwows, seeing her old powwow friends and making new friends. Oh, and she says she really misses the powwow food!
But she loves the fact that her Social Distance Powwow video has been shared all across the country, showing her unique style. “The response to my video makes me feel loved and free, and proud of myself,” she said.
Keilana lives in Cherokee in the Wolfetown Community. Her Cherokee name is ᏥᏍᏕᏥ— "Tsisdetsi.” Like Eva, she usually travels to powwows to compete in the fancy shawl dance category.
For her Social Distance Powwow video, she wanted to do something special and different and dance at a waterfall in the mountain of her community.
“In the video, she uses the falls for her music,” shared her grandmother, Carolina Oocumma. “Through her dancing, she wants to help to heal against the virus.”
Keilana will turn 8 during Cherokee’s mandatory stay-at-home quarantine period. And how will she celebrate? With pizza (her favorite food) and being with her sisters and family.
Haizleigh Driver, 8, started dancing in 2017. She has participated in three powwows in Cherokee, as well as the Spirit of Nations in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the Annual Honoring Our Veterans Powwow in Corbin, Kentucky, where she took first place in the fancy shawl category for her age group. What Haizleigh misses the most about dancing at powwows is getting to interact with other people.
She said it makes her a little nervous knowing that a lot of people are watching her videos on the Social Distance Powwow Facebook group, but it also makes her happy when she reads all of the positive comments.
“She likes knowing that she was able to put a smile on people’s faces, especially during such a trying time,” said her mom, Kristin Williams Driver.
Want More Powwow Inspiration?
Take a look at these gorgeous photos from the 43rd annual Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Powwow. These rich images, shot by Cherokee photographer Kristy Herron or put the viewer front and center of the celebration. Look closely and you may find you can almost hear the beat of the drum, the heartbeat of the powwow.