Re: dream catchers

thomas w kavanagh (tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 16:19:43 -0500

On Wed, 30 Oct 1996, Susan L. Nielsen wrote:

> there is a modern, pan-Native American movement which does look
> more and more like a unifying cultural thread. Not to say that
> Native Americans have become one undifferentiated group, but that
> they are identifying themselves as members of one, larger group.

I beg to differ. It may superficially look like this, but there are
still major differences out there. Hopi is not Comanche is not Leech

Moreover, there are several different kinds of "pan-Indianism" (see Hazel
Hertzberg, The Search for an American Indian Identity).

> Go to any pow-wow,
> and you will see a marvelous mix of traditions from disparate areas,
> all combined into an accepted whole. While I'm certain there are
> still regional variations, the pan-Native ethos is eclectic in the
> extreme, and does approach what one might think of as a single
> identity.

That a powwow is a mixture of traditions goes without saying (Culture is a
mixture of traditions). But powwow is not a singularity. To say that there
is a single "pan-Native ethos" expressed in *the* (singular) powwow
ignores the tremendous variation that exists in powwows.

While there are some similarities in structure (i.e. principals
{Head Singer, Sponsor, etc}, and song/dance styles, there *are* important
"regional differences." A Southern powwow is very different affair than a
Northern powwow; the way singing is addressed (Northern named drums versus
Southern "Open" drums, etc.; that most Northern reservations have a single
powwow Committee which sponsors one event a year on the Res., versus the
multiple family-sponsored dances of the south.

Moreover, there are intra-regional differences (most folks dance
"clockwise," the Pawnees dance counterclockwise.)

And there are individual differences. I have been going to Comanche
Homecoming powwow for 25 years, (and did my Masters Thesis on it; see also
my "Southern Plains Powwow" in the Museum of the American Indian's Native
American Dance book, and "Powwow" in the Enclyclopedia of the American
Indian). Last summer at Homecoming, knowing that there has been a recent
increase in the role of veterans in powwows, I asked a friend if he felt
sorry that he had not been in the army, i.e. whether he had the "warrior
ethos" allegedly expressed in the powwow, he looked at me as if I had
asked if he was sorry he was not purple, or something equally outlandish.

> But note that when such items as Dream Catchers are incorporated into
> a larger group's tradition, their "mythology" as you call it is not
> restricted to the original interpretation.

Granted, meanings change. But remember that except for the most
vaguely worded statements, there is no such thingie as "a larger
group's tradition" (singular).

[? by "larger group" are you paralleling your above use of "pan-native,"
or do you mean the non-Indian population which is incorporating Dream
Catchers as "traditional"? If the latter, I might note that the only way
Dream Catchers are part of my culture is, as I noted in my post, as the
God's Eyes of the '90s.]

> Maybe they are faddish, but don't forget that tradition starts
> every day. When does a culture trait become "traditional?"

By the definition we used at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival,
"traditional" required oral transmission across one generation. In
pragmatic practice something can become "traditional" when someone says it
is and someone else believes them.