T omorrow when the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe’s fifth annual powwow begins, it will be with the Grand Entry, when members of different tribes from all over New England proceed into the arena at the Aquinnah Circle, that grassy open meadow near the Cliffs, to music and drumming. All spectators stand in welcome.

Standing for the Grand Entry is one of the formalities that may be unknown to those attending a powwow for the first time — and this Native American social is open to everyone. So Bettina Washington, the historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), has been working this week on a helpful brochure to be made available to any visitors, and it outlines the proper protocol.

“I think this is the biggest event the tribe does, where we invite the public,” Ms. Washington said.

There is much to learn about the formalities of a powwow, she said. During festivities tomorrow and Sunday, the powwow will pay tribute to tribal members who have served in the past, and those that are serving now, with a warm look to the future. Ms. Washington said tribal members want to make sure the audience knows what is expected: men should remove their hats at certain times, and there are times when onlookers are expected to be quiet and reverent. First-time visitors are encouraged to ask for help in understanding.

“I already know that the education has not been the best at informing and educating people on the Island [and] in the state about who we are,” Ms. Washington said: “But this is changing.

“We are not just one group of Native Americans. Each tribe [that is attending] represents a sovereign nation,” she said.

Tribes are coming to this event from Maine to Connecticut and beyond — all, Ms. Washington said, with Algonquin ties.

The Aquinnah powwow comes late in the Native American celebratory season. Ms. Washington said Mashpee had their powwow on the Fourth of July, and there have been others since. (For a list of hundreds of New England powwows and events, see online powwowschedule.com.) Vendors often follow a circuit from one powwow to another.

Tribal members go to other tribes’ powwows to share, Ms. Washington said. “I went to a Narragansett powwow for the first time in a long time, in August,” Ms. Washington said. Powwows are an opportunity to gather with friends, she said: “You know there are elders who haven’t seen each other in a really long time.”

Participants are coming this weekend from the Narragansett, Mashpee, Mohegan and Pequot tribes, and they will know the program, because there are many similarities between powwows.

A powwow is visually striking, but photography is restricted. Professional photographers are required to register and are only to work at certain times. Permission needs to be obtained from each person photographed and model releases must be used.

“The history of the tribe is [told] in the dress,” Ms. Washington said. Many tribal members will wear their traditional regalia. Some outfits are colorful, others subdued. The varied dress often reflects a specific time period, from “pre-contact” with settlers coming to North America, to modern times.

The gathering of hundreds begins when gates open at 11 a.m. Saturday; the grand entry is scheduled for 1 p.m.

A powwow brings both exuberance and sometimes tears to the eye. There will be a flag song, a veterans’ honor song, and a special memorial song for the late Medicine Man Luther Tacknash Madison, which will likely begin between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m. Saturday.

Jonathan Perry is the emcee.

At 3 p.m. there will be an event to honor those young members of the tribe who revived the tribe’s powwow five years ago. High school students at the time, more than a dozen of them, they’ve since gone on to college and the workplace. The tribe wants to honor the story of their enthusiasm and hard work, which brought the traditional event back.

During the afternoon are the dances, often more like storytelling with a beat. There will be a men’s dance, which can display certain hunting rituals. The women and young girls will do an Eastern Blanket Dance.

A spot dance contest will be held; special spots are marked on the dance area, and if a dancer is caught at a certain moment near the “spot,” they can walk away with $5 to $10.

A 50-50 raffle will benefit the tribe’s youth program.

Sunday’s schedule is similar, except that at 3 p.m. there will be a Memorial Song to honor those who have served the tribe in the past.

For anyone attending a powwow for the first time, it is a remarkable view into the lives of Native Americans and their high regard for one other.

The only big concern for the event is the weather. Last year’s powwow took place under a tent soaked by Hurricane Hanna. “There will be a powwow rain or shine,” Ms. Washington said.


Powwow parking is at the Wampanoag Tribal Headquarters on 20 Black Brook Road; a shuttle bus will run continuously. Admission is $10 for one day, $15 for two days for adults. Children under five are admitted free. For children aged 5 to 18, and seniors over 65, the fee is $5 for one day, $7.50 for two days.