The 153rd Annual "Original" Omaha Tribal Pow-Wow
Reproduced from Folklife Center News 6:4 (October-December 1983): 7-11.
"Drum" is used to name both the instrument and the singers who surround it. The Omaha Pow-wow Committee's own group of singers, referred to as the "host drum," performed in alternation with two other ensembles from the region. Often, onlookers -- like the woman shown in the photograph below -- would tape the music.
In mid-August Dorothy Sara Lee, Director of the Center's Federal Cylinder Project, and Carl Fleischhauer traveled to the Omaha Indian Reservation in Macy, Nebraska to attend the 153rd Annual "Original" Omaha Tribal Pow-Wow. They were there to present to the Omaha Tribal Council tape copies of cylinder recordings of Omaha music made in the early years of this century by Francis La Flesche, himself an Omaha Indian, and Alice Cunningham Fletcher (see Folklife Center News, Vol. IV, No. 1, January 1981, and Vol. VI, No. 2, April-June 1983). The Omaha cylinder recordings are among those that have been duplicated onto preservation tape through the efforts of the Federal Cylinder Project, initiated in 1979. Their visit also provided an opportunity to observe, photograph, and record a Native American pow-wow.
Joining them for presentation of the tapes and documentation of the pow-wow was Maria La Vigna, formerly on the Federal Cylinder Project staff, who has worked extensively with the music of Native American cultural groups in the West. She is currently preparing notes for the Center's LP and cassette recording of Omaha cylinders. Her visit to the pow-wow gave her an opportunity to collect material for the notes and put the historical recordings in contemporary context.
As Dorothy Lee's field-note entry for August 12, her first day at the pow-wow, attests, they are complicated presentations:
This was my first reservation pow-wow (I had attended urban events in Minneapolis) and there was a great deal to take in. Although many people sat and watched from the stands, this was not strictly a spectator event. There were many layers of activity, many ways it seemed of looking at the organization of time and space within the event, many different activities going on both within and outside the arena. Most of the attention was focused on the dancers; as I recall, there were no contest dances this evening but rather general dances or intertribals, specials (given in honor of a particular individual), a performance by the San Juan Indian Youth Dancers, and an Oklahoma two-step. But there were also several small intersecting universes of activity and interaction on the periphery of the dance ground: young boys hawking soda and candy; the faint but unmistakable sound of rock music coming from radios and cassette players; movement to and from the concessions; parents dressing young dancers in contest costume.
Their appreciation of the many different activities that took place over the next three days and evenings of the pow-wow and their efforts to record the event were greatly assisted by explanations, comments, and suggestions offered by Tribal Chairman Elmer Blackbird; Joseph Harlan, Sr., Chairman of the Pow-Wow Committee; master of ceremonies Clifford Wolfe, Sr.; Dennis Hastings, tribal archivist of the Omaha Tribe; and many others.
In assessing the impression that the return of the cylinder recordings made, Dorothy Lee
noted that the reactions after the presentation were gradual and subtle, often woven into
conversations about the pow-wow's ongoing events. It seemed too that their importance
to the Omaha lay not in the return of the recordings and the songs on the recordings, but in the fact
that some songs were still part of the Omaha repertory after nearly a century. The singers seemed
especially proud of this, and lead singer Rufus White said several times, "I
know that song; we still sing that song."