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Book: Indigenizing Movements in Europe

Chapter: Powwowing My Way: Exploring Johnson’s Concepts of Indigenizing and Extending through the Lived Expressions of American Indian-ness by European Powwow Enthusiasts

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.36297


Paul Johnson suggests in his article ‘Migrating Bodies, Circulating Signs,’ that the “identifying practices of indigenousness… are imagined through global media and often expressed in their forms” (2005: 65). And nowhere is this more the case than with a specific group of Europeans who find a form of Indigeneity through interactions with North American Indian spiritual lifeways, typically mediated via the global media; European Powwow enthusiasts - individuals who, put simply, dress-up and dance as Plains American Indians in Powwow-style events.

Powwows are essentially highly symbolic North American Indian ceremonial social gatherings with spiritual elements. Although their roots lie with the Plains and Prairie peoples of North America, powwows have become a pan-Indian phenomenon, a dynamic and evolving tradition that features singing and dance. Powwows act as an opportunity for North American Indian peoples to honour their cultures and heritages, and powwowing now stands as a major signifier of Indianness for both North American Indian people, and the wider populace.

The predominantly White-Western pursuit of dressing, dancing and ritualising as a North American Indian, although not a mass activity is one to be found in North America, Canada, Australia, Japan, the former USSR, and across large stretches of Europe with regular gatherings in England, Germany, Denmark, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. Although not all Powwow enthusiasts seek to identify as Native American, that they experiment with Indigeneity is beyond question.

This chapter seeks firstly to explore in brief, the long history of global media representations of North American Indians and their spiritual lifeways, that allowed, and continue to allow, Europeans to take on aspects of the Indian Indigenousness, and secondly to examine how Johnson’s processes of Extension and Indigenizing, can be applied to European Powwow enthusiasts own processes of locating themselves within a form of Indigeneity.

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