Contemporary North Carolina American Indian powwow dress: an exploration of tradition, culture, and identity

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Beth Metcalf Bell (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Hodges

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to explore the form and meanings of North Carolina American Indian powwow dress. To address this purpose, I examined powwow regalia worn by North Carolina American Indians at local powwows. Having lost their tribal culture and identity with early European contact, North Carolina American Indians began to look to Plains Indian practices like the powwow to regain their American Indian identity, and by the 1960s, began holding public powwows. These powwows allow North Carolina American Indians to create tribal identities through dance and dress styles. Historic Plains Indian styles are the primary influences on dress at North Carolina powwows and are used to create familiar images of the American Indian for powwow spectators. While there is evidence of more local tribe-based influences on North Carolina American Indian regalia, little research has examined the impact of this influence, or that of the Plains styles, on North Carolina American Indian powwow regalia. Thus, this study addresses a major gap that exists within the literature. An ethnographic approach to research was used to address the purpose of the study. Specifically, powwow regalia worn for the Northern Men's Traditional Dance, the Grass Dance, and the Fancy Dance were investigated. Four methods of data collection were employed, including observation, visual documentation, field interviews, and in-depth interviews. A total of 11 powwows were observed. Field interviews were conducted with ten Northern Men's Traditional dancers, two Grass dancers, and one Fancy dancer. In-depth interviews were then conducted with eight of the thirteen participants. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed along with observation and visual data for broader issues related to the form and meaning of powwow dress. Data analysis revealed that powwow regalia creates meaning for the participant by establishing and communicating a personal, tribal, and general American Indian identity. Thematic interpretation of the data revealed that distinct elements of the regalia represent these separate identities. Although the influence of historic Plains Indian dress was seen in this study, findings also reveal Eastern Woodlands historic dress influences emerging in North Carolina American Indian powwow dress. Cultural authentication was employed as a theoretical framework to explain how these influences are indicative of the adoption of dress between cultural groups and across time periods. Although this study addresses major gaps in the literature, it also points to the need for further inquiry into ways that different groups use dress to establish and maintain a cultural identity.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
American Indian, Cultural authentication, Dress and identity, North Carolina, Pan-Indian, Powwow regalia
Indians of North America $x Clothing $z North Carolina
Powwows $z North Carolina
Indians of North America $x Ethnic identity

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