International Traveller

AMERICAN INTERIOR

It starts with the pounding of enormous deer skin drums and high-pitched chanting that calls hundreds of dancers into the Pow Wow Grand Entry, feathers catching the wind, dazzling coloured beads gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine, ankle bells jingling.

“You’re listening to the heartbeat of a nation,” booms the announcer as he welcomes tribal leaders, contestants, family members and spectators to the United Tribes Technical College 48th International Pow Wow in Bismarck, North Dakota. It is one of the major Native American dance and song celebrations that take place across the United States.

This is not the America that many visitors, or indeed many non-indigenous Americans, know much about. Yet it is as rich a cultural experience as you’re likely to enjoy anywhere on the globe. The colour and kaleidoscope of movement are as intoxicating as they are bewildering. Luckily, as a guest of NativeWays (nativewaystravel.com), I’m introduced to elders, dancers and drummers to learn about the symbolism of their tribal regalia and the stories behind the rhythmic dances.

NativeWays founder and Turtle Mountain Chippewa member Mike Mabin explains, “We’re all family here and all have stories to share.”

It is as rich a cultural experience as you’re likely to enjoy

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