The second joy of the powwow is simply hanging out and people-watching. With so many participants, there is no "backstage." Entire families deck themselves out for dances right up in the audience's seats. They duct-tape leggings to their calves and braid ribbons into their hair. A man in black and yellow face paint, an enormous feather bustle, and headphones sings along with his rap music. The emcee cracks terrible jokes over the PA system.
This is a glimpse of native culture vibrant, contemporary, straddling the chasm between tradition and change that never appears in the mainstream media. When first-time spectators arrive, they often walk around gingerly, afraid of violating some taboo or giving offense. But sooner or later they realize they can relax. They find a seat among the suitcases and blankets and feathers, they gape for a while, and pretty soon you can see them nodding along with the steady drum beat, enjoying the show.
[Originally published in March, 2002.]