A History of the Bimoojiganan
They are sailing on the breeze
~ War Song by Odjib’we
Niimi`idiwin (The Powwow). We are all familiar with it. We grow up with it, and we participate in it as dancers, singers or spectators. For many of us, it is one of the constants in our lives as Ojibwe-Anishinaabe people - from the time we enter the Land of the Living to the time we return homeward to the Spirit World. It connects us to our ancestors, for whom dance was the expression of their soul-spirits made visible and whose traditions teach us that dance extends beyond one's life to the Spirit World, where the jichaagwag (soul-spirits) of all our relatives are made visible by the shimmering lights of their auras as they dance in the northern night skies. Indeed, the stories of our elders tell us that our very creation as Ojibwe-Anishinaabe people is rooted in dance and song. The dance circle with dancers in regalia dancing to songs is ancient, and it is a commonality that we share with many other tribal nations, including indigenous people worldwide. Through dance and song we maintain a fundamental part of our connection to Ashkaakamigokwe (Mother Earth).
Dance among the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe dates back to the time when the Ojibwe were a part of the Anishinaabe (Woodland) nation and lived on the shores of the Great Salt Waters (the Atlantic Ocean). Dance had always been a vital societal function in Anishinaabe society. Dance sustained and imbued the individual with identity and personal meaning. Anishinaabe dance heritage was an elemental one, one that reached back to the dawn of humankind when Anishinaaba (Original Man), who could not walk or crawl, took his first two steps with his right foot on Ashkaakamigokwe. This became the dance step used for Anishinaabe dance.
There were a number of dances that Ojibwe villages engaged in. Dances included the Bear Dance, the Eagle Dance, and the Discovery Dance among others. The Beggar’s Dance and the Woman’s Dance (often referred to as the Squaw Dance) were social dances. Dances related to the Midewewin were held in the spring and fall. But the dance that received the most attention by ethnographers, explorers, writers was the war dance.
War dancing was widespread among many tribes across Turtle Island, and there were similarities in war dancing. The Scalp/Victory Dance were part of the dance complex generally referred to as the War Dance. The origin and point of diffusion is unknown. Among the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe Ogichidaag (warriors), this old form of war dance was called Nandobaniishimowin. The name was derived from the term Nandobaniiwin, meaning warfare.
Although the Ojibwe did not have warrior societies that paralleled the tightly structured Plains warrior societies, there was nevertheless a structure for activities related to warfare. “The Anishinaabe did not perceive war as a constant or even a long-term state, and as a result, permanent war leaders [Mayosewininiwag] were unnecessary…A mayosewinini had only limited authority, and his power was determined largely by the number of warriors who followed him for the duration of the crisis…Mayosewininiwag who consistently demonstrated combined military and spiritual power by wining battles and honors while incurring few or no casualties gained in influence.” Ojibwe “warrior societies had their own identifiable leaders, ceremonies, and prescribed rights for the group that cut across kin and village lines”. It was “restricted to the men who had won war honors.”1
The Ojibwe war dance complex consisted of several interconnected dances. Departure dances were held during the period when the war party was assembled and organized. Once on the war path, dances were held nightly until the area for engagement was reached. If the engagement was successful, the warriors composed songs of their deeds and valor they had achieved during the engagement. They would sing these songs and reenact their deeds through dance at the Victory/Scalp Dance that was held in their home village. Dancing by warriors was held regularly throughout the spring and summer as a part of village gatherings. The Striking-the-Pole Dance was a common feature at communal dances in which warriors struck a center pole and then sang and danced of their deeds in war. This particular dance was also performed for visiting government dignitaries and missionaries.
William Warren described a nandobaniishimo in held in the early 1700s: “On occasions of this nature, the warriors work themselves by hard dancing, yelling, and various contortions of the body…” Actions and deeds on the battlefield were “boasted of in their triumphal dances and warlike festivities.” Ogichidaag gathered in the spring and summer “to engage in festivities and dances, during which the events and exploits of past years are sung and recited; and while they derive fresh courage and stimulus to renewed exertion, the young, who are listeners, learn to emulate their fathers and take their earliest lessons in the art of war.”2
Regarding the customs of the Ogichidaag, Warren wrote: “This customary procedure on the eve of the an attack or battle, being performed, the warriors grasped their medicine bags, and hurriedly adorned their faces and naked bodies with war paint, those that earned them planted the eagle plumes on their headdress, which denoted enemies they had slain or scalps taken and…charms of supposed invulnerability were attached to different portions of their headdress, armlets, or belts.”3
Odjib’we provided information on Ogichidaag customs, regalia, songs, and dances. Regarding the Victory Dance, Odjib’we said: “On returning, a victorious war party sent runners in advance to carry news of their approach, and preparations for a suitable reception were begun at once. Meantime, the warriors made their last camp before reaching home; here they rehearsed the songs concerning the victory and arrayed themselves in their finest apparel. As they approached the village…the women came out to meet them. One woman led the party, to whom were given the scalps taken by the warriors. Then the women led the procession, the scalp bearers in advance, waving the scalps and singing. After the party reached the village preparations for the victory dance were begun. The [scalp] poles were stuck in the ground beside the pile of food, and the feast was called ‘feasting the Sioux.’ In response this song [the Gift Song] the warriors rose and danced, singing of what they had done on the warpath. Gifts were distributed to all the people by members of the warrior’s clan. The next event was the victory dance, which often continued until daylight, by the light of torches and bonfires. At the conclusion of these dances, the scalps were carefully wrapped until the next dance. [T]hey were sent to another village, where similar dances were held.”4
In preparation for a visit by Washington officials, Johann Georg Kohl wrote: “According to traditional custom, the pipe of peace passed from tent to tent…among the warriors. When each had smoked, the procession started, and marched with drums beating, fluttering feather flags…through the village, to the open space before the old fort of North-West Company. Here they put up a wooden post, and close to it their war-flag, after which the dances, speeches, and songs began. A circle was formed of brown-skinned dancers, with the musicians and singers in the middle. To the music, the warriors hopped around in a circle, shaking the otter, fox, and beaver tails attached to their arms and heads. At times the singing and dancing was interrupted: with flying hair and skins a warrior walked into the circle, raised his tomahawk, and struck the post a smart blow, as a signal that he was going to describe his warrior deeds.”5
Henry Schoolcraft wrote: “This ceremony, together with what is called striking the post, was performed during our stay. The warriors, arrayed for war, danced in a circle to the music of their drum and rattles. After making a fixed number of revolutions, they stopped simultaneously and uttered a sharp war yell. A man then stepped out, and raising his club and striking a pole at the center, related a personal exploit in war. The dance was then resumed, and terminated in like manner by yells, when another warrior related his exploits. This was repeated as long as there were exploits to tell…”6
The diffusion of the Bwaanzhii-niimi`idiwin occurred at Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga`igan, Red Lake, in the late 1850s after Red Lake and the Dakota made peace. “There they were; as far as I know, there was no Grass Dance [Bwaanzhii-niimi`idiwin] at that time [i.e., the peace negotiations]. The peace pipe was there, and they used it to make peace. Now the next year, or not too long after that, the [Red Lake] Indians returned the visit to the Dakotas, and everything went all right. Now comes the powwow. I don’t know the exact time, but it wasn’t far away, that the Sioux came again and gave the Chippewa the Grass Dance. It was one they could do all the time. Now, the Chippewa were told, ‘This dance is given to the Chippewa. You have the right to give this dance to any other group of people you wish, and they will have the privilege to pass it on to any group.’ The Chippewa were told if anything new comes in, they will get it.”7
Francis Densmore not only provided a timeline but also a detailed description of the bimoojiganan (bustles): “He was elaborately attired and as a badge of his office wore a garment received from the Sioux, called by them wami’hina’ka. The writer had seen a similar garment worn by Teton Sioux in their social dances and also by the Chippewa at Leech Lake, Minnesota, July 4, 1910, who said they received it many years ago from the Sioux. This garment consists of a piece of cloth about 18 inches wide and 40 inches long, on which feathers are closely sewed, being lightly fastened by the quills, so that they move with every motion of the wearer. The garment, which is attached to a belt, hangs behind the wearer, reaching to his ankles….It was stated that the ceremony [the Dog Feast] had been received from the Sioux and that the feather garments worn by the four leaders were given to the Chippewa by the Sioux about fifty years ago.”8 Densmore’s account places the bustle in Leech Lake in the early 1860s.
The development of the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin from 1860s to the turn of the nineteenth century marked a changeover period, in which the war dance made the transition from the traditional pre-Conquest period to the modern era, albeit with changes. The older form of war dance, Nandobaniishimowin, was replaced by a newer form of war dance, Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin. Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin was different in that Nandobaniishimowin, i.e., the old war dance, was essentially non-secular, while the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin was secular.
Under the old war dance complex, the warriors, their clans, and their village took part in the ceremonial aspects of the war dance. War dance activities were predicated on warfare. With the ending of conflicts with the Dakota, the old war dance diminished in form and meaning. Warfare was no longer an integral part of warrior life. The establishment of reservations, from the 1840s and onward, led to a further erosion of traditional life. The arrival of the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin allowed for the continuation of certain aspects of the old war dance, albeit with changes. The primary change was that the war dance became a public dance that became a part of the dance complex we have today – Niimi’idiwin (the Powwow).
The introduction of the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin was a new element in the Ogichidaag dance complex. The Bwaanzhii-niimi`idiwin introduced large kettle and bass drums; this was a significant change from the use of hand drums. Also, Ogichidaag war regalia and adornments became codified as part of the new war dance, which also included adaptions from the Bwaanag (Dakota). Whether that included bustles is a matter of conjecture. There are indications that Ogichidaag had certain types of bustles before the arrival of the Bwaanzhii-niimi`idiwin. What has been referred to as early Woodland style bustles were composed of a trailer covered with predator feathers with or without two spike feathers.
George Catlin painted Ojibwe dancers that depict Woodland type bustles. One painting, Four Dancers (1843-44), shows four Ojibwe dancers wearing bustles. A drawing, Ojibwa dancers performing before Queen Victoria (1843, engraved in 1848), depicts two Ojibwe dancers wearing bustles. The dates of the painting and drawing predate the diffusion of the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin among the Ojibwe. In this regard, the dancers were wearing regalia associated with the older form of war dancing, Nandobaniishimowin.
Although the Dakota brought the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin to the Ojibwe, they were not the originators of the dance. Just as the Ojibwe referred to the tribe that they had received the dance from, the Dakota and Lakota also referred to the tribe from whom they had received the dance – the Omaha Wacipi or Grass Dance.
Four Dancers, George Catlin, (1843-44)
Ojibwa dancers performing before Queen Victoria in London, George Catlin, Drawing, 1843. Engraving, 1848.
Boy Chief, Ojibbeway, George Catlin, 1845. Boy Chief was one of eleven Ojibwe who traveled to Paris with Catlin and danced before
King Louis Philippe.
Au-nim-muck-kwa-um, Tempest Bird, George Catlin, 1845. He traveled to Paris with the Ojibwe group.
Say-say-gon, Hail Storm, George Catlin, 1845. He traveled to Paris with the Ojibwe group.
Odjib'we, Frances Densmore's informant on ogichidaag customs, attired in his ogichidaag regalia; Photo by Francis Densmore, 1908
A war bird
Who looked upon me
~ War Song by Odjib’we
The origin of Men’s Traditional Dance can be traced back to the Hethushka that developed among Omaha and Ponca warrior societies in the early 1820s. By the mid-1800s, the Hethushka dance developed as a non-secular version of the war dance. The Hethushka were basically drum and dance societies, each with their own songs, singers, and dancers. Hethushka dancers wore their warrior regalia, including roaches, scalps of opponents represented by braids of sweet grass, eagle bone whistles, and feather belts or bustles.
Alice C. Fletcher wrote:
“The Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omahas probably originated in that tribe, at least as to its present form. So ancient are these people, and during the centuries they have touched and been affected by so many other groups, that it would be unsafe to say that any particular society or any particular custom was exclusively developed and maintained by this or any one tribe. The guesses at the meaning of the name Hae-thu-ska are still only guesses, so that little if any clue can thus be gained as to the origin of the society
“The society had its peculiar regalia. The members cut their hair close on each side of their head, and left a tuft a few inches wide, extending from the forehead to back of the crown, where it met the scalp-lock. No clothing was worn except the breech-cloth, and at the back a long bunch of grass was fastened in the belt. Each man painted in accordance with the directions given him when he passed through the ceremonies of receiving his honors at the Tent of War. The Leader, and other men distinguished for their skill and success in war, wore an ornament called Ka-hae, or crow. This was made of two sticks like arrow shafts, painted green, and feathered, like the stems of the fellowship pipes, with feathers of the buzzard; tufts of crow plumage and long pendants reaching nearly to the ground, made of crow feathers, completed this ornament, which was worn at the back fastened to the belt, the two shafts rising to the man’s shoulder blades. The men wearing the Ka-hae; painted the front of their bodies and their arms and legs with daubs of black; their faces and backs were completely covered with black paint, but on their backs, white spots were put on the black color. Comparatively few men attained sufficient eminence as warriors to wear the Ka-hae and paint themselves in this manner. The blackened face and dappled limbs and front were emblematic of the thunder clouds and their destructive power as they advance over the heavens, even as the warrior approaches his victim dealing his death-darts. The blackened back with its white spots indicated the dead body of the enemy, which the birds were busy pecking, leaving their droppings as they tore away the fast-decaying flesh. The crow was worn, as it was said to be the first to find a corpse, and later was joined by other birds of prey. The tuft of grass worn by all the members of the Hae-thu-ska bore a twofold signification: it represented the tail of the Me-ka-thu, or wolf, the animal closely allied to the warrior, and it also symbolized the scalp of the vanquished enemy.”9
“No clothing except the breechcloth was worn by the members and a long bunch of grass representing scalps the wearer had taken was fastened to the belt at the back.
“Later, but how long ago it is now impossible to ascertain, the members entitled to wear the scalps, substituted therefor the bunch of long grass. In time this decoration became part of the Hethu’shka dress or regalia and as such was worn by all the members without regard to personal achievements. When the ‘dance’ became known to the Dakota tribes and the Winnebago, the significance of the bunch of long grass having been forgotten, they gave the name ‘Grass dance,’ or the ‘Omaha dance,’ the latter name in recognition of the tribe from which the ‘dance’ had been obtained."10
“The Yanktons, a branch of the Dakota group, were old friends of the Omahas; visits have been exchanged between the tribes for several generations. The Yanktons adopted the Hae-thu-ska, but did not call it by that name; they give it the descriptive title of ‘The Omaha Dance,’ or ‘The Grass Dance,’ the latter name referring to the tuft of grass worn at the belt.
"Meanwhile, through the medium of the Dakotas the Hae-thu-ska, under the name of "The Omaha" or "Grass Dance," spread to other branches of the Sioux and also to the Winnebago Indians; the modified Omaha songs and some of the Dakota music were taken with the dance.
"I have witnessed this dance among several branches of the Dakotas, as well as the Winnebagos and Omahas, and am familiar with the music of these tribes as well as that of the Pawnee, loway, and Otoe Hae-thu-ska songs. Between the Omaha, Ioway, Otoe, and Pawnee songs there seems to be a unity of conception and of purpose; the music carries the story, and belongs to the dramatic dance. The songs of the Dakota and Winnebago do not partake of this character. The society among these tribes has lost its old significance; the decorations have changed, and the meaning of some of the ancient symbols is forgotten; even the dancing does not reproduce the vivid picture of personal hazards in war. There are many signs of transplanting rather than of an indigenous growth in the dance as seen in these latter tribes. It is social rather than historical, and, while full of spirit, it does not rouse within the dancer or spectator ancestral pride, as it cannot fail to do among the Omahas, where the songs recall the ancient prowess of the people."11
Fletcher’s conclusion provides insight into the changes that were occurring as the Omaha Dance spread to other tribes. Initially, the Omaha Crow/Feather Belt consisted of a trailer covered with predator bird feathers and a bundle of bird plumage. However, by the late 1890s, some Lakota dancers began to elaborate the belt to include a bustle – a flat, round, feather bustle. These bustles were referred to as “messy” bustles. Some were made entirely of eagle feathers; others combined eagle, hawk, and feathers of other predatory birds. By the early 1900s, some dancers began wearing two bustles – one on the waist and one on the back. Overall, bustles became larger with feathers extending outward with fluffs on the tips. The style of bustle became a matter of personal choice with some dancers wearing smaller rosette bustles and others wearing extended bustles.
There was also a change in dance styles that was reflected in the regalia that was worn. Dancers in northern tribes such as the Assiniboine, Mandan, Arikara, Hidasta, Blackfeet, among others, danced without bustles. The point of origin is unknown, but one of the identifying factors was the regalia. Of particular significance was the war shirt. With its beaded panels and long fringes of buckskin or ermines, the war shirt was emblematic of northern Plains warriors. Early photos show non-bustled dancers wearing their war shirts as part of their dance. In time, war shirts would be modified as regular shirts with beaded shoulder harnesses and ribbon or yarn fringes. The movements of grass were represented by the movements of the dancer. The Lakota referred to the dance as Peji Waci – the Grass Dance.
There was, of course, a confusion of terminology. The Omaha Dance had also been called the Grass Dance in reference to the braids of sweet grass, representing scalps, worn by the dancers. The emergence of the Peji Waci eliminated the references to the Omaha style of dance as the Grass Dance. To distinguish between the two styles of dancing, Omaha style dancers, i.e. dancers with bustles, were more commonly referred to as war dancers.
Is my trust?
My bird-skin charm
Is my trust
~ War Song by Odjib’we
Originally, the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin was limited to warriors. The old Ogichidaag war dance complex, the Nandobaniishimowin, ceased to exist. The Nandobaniishimowin centered on warfare and the taking of scalps. With the ending of hostilities and changes in social life, there was no longer a means to achieve honor. The secularization of the war dance through the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin allowed for ogichidaag to continue to telling their stories through dance, albeit in a public performance. And, like the old war dance complex, they continued to array themselves in their finest clothing. The codification of their regalia served an important function in tribal identity. European attire had effectuated changes in everyday appearance. Through the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin, traditional attire became standardized and provided a connection to identity for both the dancer and spectator.
By the early 1900s, many of the old warriors passed on and the protocols of the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin changed. The war dance was no longer restricted to warriors. Many younger men began dancing. Men’s regalia underwent a renaissance with the adoption of ceremonial type clothing. Turbans, roaches, (or broad-brimmed, black felt hats), bandolier bags and beaded floral breechcloths became the norm. Wearing a bustle were a matter of personal choice. The type of bustle worn was the feather belt type – a small bustle with plumage composed of predatory bird feathers, usually eagle feathers.
In the 1920s, changes in Plains dancing affected Ojibwe men’s dance. The Peji Waci spread into Anishinaabe Country and Ojibwe men began dancing the non-bustled grass dance. Their regalia included beaded panels shoulder and belts, chevron striped breechcloths, roaches, and attire featuring ribbon or yarn fringes.
The bimoonjigan also underwent changes. One popular style of bustle, referred to as the Woodland style bustle, featured a small rosette of eagle feathers with an attached trailer. Other Ojibwe bustle styles reflected changes in the Plains bustle with long, extended feathers, tipped with white or colored fluffs and attached trailer.
There is no clear demarcation date as to when Niimi’idiwin began. Niimi’idiwin can be defined as a community dance with both male and female dancers dancing in regalia that were specific to a dance style. In 1910, some women danced in calico dresses with ribbon hems, and others in dresses embroidered with floral designs, although a specific dance style wasn’t attributed to them. By the 1920s, the jingle dress emerged in Ojibwe communities. It was at this point that Niimi’idiwin, the powwow, with its war dancers, grass dancers, and jingle dress dancers, became firmly embedded Ojibwe communities.
With the establishment of the powwow, some individuals became dancers (or singers) and others became spectators. Spectators were, of course, something new to community dance. The powwow itself was not responsible for this segmentation; rather it was the subjugation of tribal homelands through treaties and changes in the tribal social and political structure imposed by forces outside the community, that is, Euro-American oppression through church and government. The development of Native spectators resulted from boarding schools where Native children were prohibited from using their own language and expressing their tribal customs and beliefs. The powwow, however, provided an elemental connection between the dancer and the spectator. The individual's tribal collective consciousness deeply responded to the visual forms created through the movements of the dancer. Through the dancer, spectators remembered their ancestors, their clans, the traditions, and their histories. In this regard, the dancer danced for the individual who watched.
By the 1960s, new dance styles developed in Niimi-idiwin that included women’s traditional, fancy shawl, and men’s fancy dance. These dances and regalia were associated with the advent of contest powwows and led to the dance categories used today.
During this period, the term “war dancer” fell into disuse and a new term came to be used – Northern Traditional. The term “traditional” connected these dancers to long established customs that were rooted in the Omaha/Grass Dance and, in particular, as represented by the bustle.
Niimi’idiwin has continued to evolve and incorporate new dance styles. The Woodland Dance has emerged in recent years as a competitive dance among the Ojibwe and other Great Lakes tribes. The dance appeared in approximately 2008-2009, with some attributing Wisconsin as the locale for the emergence. Woodland regalia include a feathered turban or roach and attire associated with ceremonial style clothing – breechcloths, vest, and leggings with woodland floral motifs. There is a specific manner of dance style and specific songs that go with this dance.
Although the dance is relatively new, it has some roots in Ojibwe ceremonial dream dance drum societies. These ceremonial drum societies developed from the vision of Wanashkid’ikwe, Tailfeather Woman.
Wanashkid’ikwe, who belonged to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, survived a U.S. cavalry attack on her village. To avoid capture, she hid for four days and nights and during that time received a vision from the Creator. In accordance with her vision, she made the Bwaanidewe’igan (the Sioux Drum) and items to go with it including four eagle feather belts. As instructed, Wanashkid’ikwe gifted the Bwaanidewe’igan to the Ojibwe at Misi-zaaga`iganiing, Mille Lacs. From there, the Drum ceremony spread to other Ojibwe bands. According to one source, the four eagle feather belts were considered sacred and worn only for the ceremony associated with the Bwaanidewe’igan. These four belts were not allowed to be used at the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin. The eagle feather belt men weren’t prohibited from dancing, but they danced without the belts. Although the Bwaanzhii-niimi’idiwin was a secular version of the war dance and the Bwaanidewe’igan was associated with peace and well-being, the belt men wore their feathers straight up to signify peace. They represent the four eagle feather belt men who danced without their belts. They are ogichidaag who dance a war dance with their upright feathers signifying the peace that ensues when hostilities end.
Woodland dance is undoubtedly a reemergence of the old Anishinaabe war dance - the
Nandobaniishimowin. As many photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s attest, many dancers, attired in floral regalia, were still dancing the old woodland style. Others chose to wear bustles thereby incorporating the Sioux/Omaha dance style. Woodland dancers today come primarily from the ranks of Northern Men's Traditional, although Grass and Chicken dancers will often join in the competition. Yet the Woodland Dance style itself is specific and physically demanding.
Another dance that has gained popularity among the Ojibwe is the Baaka`aakwenh-niimi – the Chicken Dance. The dance emerged on the contest powwow circuit in the mid-2000s. But the dance itself is old. Its origin is attributed to the Blackfoot among whom it began as a religious society called the Kiitokii (Prairie Chicken) Society. The dance, songs, and regalia were all considered as sacred. Because of its sacred nature, the Chicken Dance as a powwow category dance is not without controversy. The chicken dancer’s regalia feature a roach, breechcloth, round bells extending from the waist or knee, and a small rosette bustle with spikes and trailer. The dance style incorporates the mating dance of the prairie chicken.
I make them dance
Those brave men
Every one of them
~ War Song by Odjib’we
The powwow today is a comingling of regalia and dance styles that are rooted in a past of traditions and customs that have largely lost meaning. Songs once sacred are sung. Regalia once sacred is worn. Since the early 1960s, the contest powwow has effectuated many changes in the dance traditions and infrastructure of traditional powwows, i.e. community-based non-contest powwows.
Pan-Indianism is a term long associated with the powwow. The powwow was, and is, still identified as the main representation of Pan-Indianism. This westernized term is used by ethnologists and historians to describe an aspect of contemporary Native America. The implication of this term is that Native Americans are becoming all the same, that tribes are losing their identities of who they are as a race. In their opinion, our dances and regalia have become so generalized, homogenized, and Pan-Indianized that one is no longer able to recognize differences. Their consensus is that tribal identity has become a homogenous generalization as shown by the similarity of dance regalia. In other words, we all look alike.
But the powwow has never been about the Eurocentric notion of Pan-Indianism. As this history of the bustle shows, there has always been a transmission of transcultural customs. Precedents in dance existed before the exchange of certain customs. Dance traditions are something that has always been shared. With sharing comes knowledge. Dance traditions represent continuity through change, and change through continuity. Our raciality is not based on sameness but rather our diversity. And our dance traditions give credence to our diversity.
The powwow today continues to exemplify the diversity that exists among us. The traditions – intercultural, intertribal, and supratribal – that form the powwow today enlighten us as to the commonality of who we are as Indigenous people. What this means is that we are all not the same, nor do we have to be. What is pertinent are our shared collective traditions that have formed the beauty of the powwow today.
Mii sa go.
1 Ogimaag: Anishinaabe Leadership, 1760-1845, Miller, Cary, University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
2 History of the Ojibway Nation, Warren, William, Ross & Haines, Inc., 1974.
4 Chippewa Music, Densmore, Francis, Ross & Haines, Inc., 1973.
5 Kitchi-Gami: Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway, Kohl, Johann Georg, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1985.
6 Personal Memoir s (18 12-18 42), Henry, Schoolcraft, Lippincott, Grambo and Co., 1851.
7 Chippewa Powwows, Rynkiewich, Michael A., Anishinabe: 6 Studies of Modern Chippewa, University Presses of Florida, 1980.
8 Densmore, op.cit.
9 Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omaha Tribe, Fletcher, Alice C., The Journal of American Folklore, Vol.5, 1892.
10 The Omaha Tribe, Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche , Twenty-Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 1905-1906.
11 Fletcher, op.cit.
© All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2015
Early Ojibwe Men's Dance in Photos
Ojibwe Scalp Dance, 1910. One of the individuals wears a panel of eagle feathers over his backside. Scalp dances were sometimes performed for visiting dignitaries and at public dance gatherings. By then, scalp dances had lost their significance since conflicts had long ended. The scalp dance depicted in the photograph is considered the last scalp dance performed by the Ojibwe at White Earth. (We Choose to Remember: More Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, 1991)
Ojibwe men dancers, early 1900s. (From: To Walk The Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, 1989)
Red Lake powwow, 1910. Typical regalia in this time period consisted of beaded breechcloths with asymmetrical floral designs, beaded floral calf leggings, breastplates or bone necklaces, deer-toe bandolier straps, and bells worn around the knees. (From: To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, 1989)
White Earth, 1910
Cass Lake, 1910
Red Lake powwow, 1933. Smaller rosette bustles with eagle feathers were favored by some dancers, although longer, expanded bustles, usually made from pheasant feathers and tipped in white fluffs, were favored by others. In photographs from this era, bustled dancers were identified as "War Dancers." (From: To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, 1989)
Red Lake grass dancers, 1949. By the late 1930s and 1940s, a newer, contemporary style developed from the Omaha/Dakota Dance. The new dance, i.e. the Grass Dance, was quickly incorporated into Ojibwe powwows. The non-bustled regalia featured beaded, harness bands, with abstracted Ojibwe designs or floral designs, tucked through beaded belts. Breechcloths featured wide, ribboned chevron stripes. Additional adornment included fringes made from ribbons or yarn. According to Kenny Scabby Robe: "The Ojibwe started to make the dance their own, and it became more contemporary and was more respected after they adopted it." (From: To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe People, 1989)
Red Lake powwow, 1949.
The Crow Belt in Ledger Art from the 1870s
The Omaha Dance / Grass Dance
Lakota Omaha/Grass dancers. 1890s.
Cheyenne Omaha/Grass dancers, 1891.
Lakota Omaha/Grass dancers, 1890.
Lakota Omaha/Grass dancers, 1890s
Lakota "Messy" Grass Dance Bustle, late 1890s.
Shoshone Omaha/Grass dancers, 1920.
Lakota Omaha/Grass dancers, circa 1920-1925. This photo depicts the elaboration of bustles as Lakota dancers began to break away from Omaha Crow/Grass Belts to a more personal expression. One dancer is wearing two bustles - one on his waist and one on his back.
Lakota war dancers, 1920.
Contest dance at Pine Ridge, 1928. This photo reflects a shift in Omaha Dance regalia. Dancers are wearing two "messy" bustles - one at the waist and one on the back.
Lakota Omaha/Grass dancer, Pine Ridge, 1928.
Assiniboine and Gros Ventre grass dancers, 1916. In the late 1890s, early 1900s, there was a shift in the Omaha Grass Dance complex. A new dance evolved out of the Omaha Dance among northern Plains tribes including the Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Blackfeet to name a few. Although there are several points of origin, the Plains war shirt is often cited as an influencing factor in the regalia. The beaded panels and long buckskin and ermine fringes of Plains war shirts emerged as the beaded shoulder harnesses and ribbon or yarn fringes in the new grass dance.
Grass dancers, 1913. This photo depicts the Grass Dance (as opposed to the Omaha Dance). Several dancers are wearing war shirts; two dancers are wearing regalia that would become the hallmarks of contemporary grass dancers - porcupine roaches and ribboned, chevron stripped breechcloths.
Grass Dance, Browning Montana, early 1900s.
Men's Northern Traditional - Anishinaabe
Photos by Ivy Vainio
Gordon K. Fineday
Norman "Taj Mahal" Goggleye
© Photos, All Rights Reserved, Ivy Vainio, 2015
Baaka`aakwenh-niimi / Chicken Dance
Travis "Boom Boom" DeBungie.
© Photos, All Rights Reserved, Ivy Vainio
Miskwa DesJarlait and Shane Mitchell. © Photo, All Rights Reserved, Michelle Bohlen Campbell
Miskwa DesJarlait. Photographer unknown
Pete Powless. © Photo, All Rights Reserved, Terri DesJarlait
Shane Mitchell. © Photo, All Rights Reserved, Michelle Bohlen Campbell.
Robert DesJarlait. © Photo, All Rights Reserved, Ivy Vainio
Winners of 2015 Baraga Woodland Special - (l-r) 1st place, Pete Powless, 2nd place, Gerald White, 3rd place, Miskwa DesJarlait. © Photo, All Rights Reserved, Dennis Gilbert.
Note - All material (with the exception of tutorial) are part of a work in progress - "Niimi'idiwin: A History of Ojibwe Dance," text by Robert DesJarlait, Except where noted, photos by Ivy Vainio.
Bimoonjiganike (Making The Bustle)
Photo by Ivy Vainio
The bustle is the primary focal point in the regalia of Men's Northern Traditional dance. Bustles comes in all sizes - from the large, eagle-wing swing bustles to the smaller, round old style bustles. Each is unique and represents a dancer's identity in the dance circle.
Although making a bustle may seem a complex and difficult task, the techniques for bustle making is basic. Bustle making is an art, yet it is an art that begins with a foundation that can be learned with patience, effort and basic knowledge.
This visual tutorial provides you with the basic foundation you need to make a bustle. Although it is intended for constructing a round, rosette bustle, the basics that are presented will allow you, with experimentation, to make the kind of bustle you want. Above all else, be creative and experiment.
Foam board - 20" x 30" x 1/16"
Craft plywood - 12" x 24" x 1/4" (or 1/8")
Wood dowel rods - 1/4" size
Marker or pencil
Yarn, thread, or tape for wrapping feather shafts
Wire coat hanger
Leather - to cut into strips and thong
Contact cement - for adhering material - cloth, leather, or imitation leather - to bustle board. Also to secure dowel rods in feather shafts.
Super Glue with applicator tip or Aleene's Clear Gel Tacky Glue to prevent fraying of tied yarn or thread ends.
Sorting the feathers.
Sort the left feathers from the right feathers and match them according to length. To keep track, number them in pencil on the shaft.
Removing the quill tips.
Remove the quill tips to open the feather shaft. Do not throw the tips in the trash. Set them aside (along with the filament). After the bustle is completed, take the tips and filament, place them outside, somewhere quiet, and offer them back to the eagle spirit with an offering of tobacco.
Removing quill filament.
Remove the filament that is inside the quill using an awl. Place the filament with the cut tips to be disposed of properly later.
Making the spacer holes.
Spacer holes are made on the sides of the shaft. These spacer holes were measured, marked with a marker, and made 1/4" from where the quills end on the shaft. First, heat the tip of a needle, then gently push the needle through the shaft; push the needle all the way through. Once a small hole is made, heat the tip of an awl; push the awl through to enlarge the spacer hole. Don't make the spacer holes too large as this could lead to the shaft bending and breaking.
Close up of spacer hole.
Inserting the dowel rod.
In this step, use 1/4" wood dowels. Measurement needs to be equal from line marked on shaft to the end of the preferred length. In this case, a line is marked 1/8" below the spacer hole. The preferred length for the shafts on this bustle is 2 1/2". Insert dowel into the shaft and slide it in as far as it will go. From the mark on the shaft, measure down to 2 1/2" and mark it. Remove dowel rod and cut it. Apply a small amount of contact cement to the cut rod and insert it back into the shaft. Note - Some of the larger feathers won't need dowels. They can be cut to the desired length. Smaller feathers will require dowels so that all the feathers will be of equal length. Also note that the length of the feathers is a personal choice. Depending on how you choose, feathers can be extended 5", 8", 10", 15". Whatever the extended length, all the feathers need to be an equal length.
Cutting the loops.
Cut leather loops into equal lengths. These loops are cut to 2 1/2". Use an awl to punch holes near the ends of the loops.
Using a heated needle, make holes near the ends of the shaft. Use an heated awl to widen the holes. Holes need to be on the front of the shaft, not the sides. Thread one end of the leather loop and bring the thread through the shaft. Use a small drop of tacky glue to hold the loop to the shaft. Using one end of the sinew, wrap down loop/shaft, then wrap upward, and tie off the sinew. Add a small dot of super glue to the knot. Note - if the shaft cracks when making the holes, the sinew wrapping will hold it together.
Feather arrangement with loops attached.
Wrapping the shaft.
The shaft can be wrapped with yarn, colored sinew, colored tape, or thread. Depending on personal choice, the shaft can be wrapped in one color, two colors, or several colors.
Apply a small amount of tacky glue and begin at the top. Begin the wrap 1/8" below the spacer hole. Leave a length of yarn for tying. Wrap down to the loop and then back up.
Gluing the yarn.
Tie off the yard and add a spot of super glue to hold the knot securely and to prevent fraying.
Completed wrapped feathers.
Stringing the spacers
Usually pony beads are used for the spacers. Colors are personal choice. The number of beads you use determines the spread between the feathers. Use several beads for a wide, flat spread, and less beads for a tight, cone spread. Using less beads creates a cone shape for the feathers to stand up and out from the bustle board. In other words, more beads for a flat shape, and less beads for a cone shape. For this bustle, pony beads are used - four between the spacer holes. For strengthening the sinew, use two strings of sinew (i.e., 8 threads). Use bee's wax to hold the strings together as one string.
Begin stringing the feathers at the feather at with the end feather at the bottom. Leave an extra length of string for tying once the feathers are strung. Use one length of sinew string for stringing and work the string through the holes on the shafts.
On this bustle, the space between the center feathers (the top feathers) - one left, one right - are wide. To bring them closer together, only two spacer beads are used to separate them. This makes the spread between them more equal.
This step can be completed before or after tying off the spacer string.
Tying off the spacer string.
When the string is through the last feather, add beads to the two loose ends. The two bottom feathers require more beads because of over lap of the two bottom feathers. In this case, eight beads were added - four yellow opaque and four purple glass. The tie off is where the fourth bead on each end meet. When tying off, the strings need to be pulled together tight. Check the spacer beads on the rosette and make sure there are no gaps or space. Make the tie off knot tight with at least two square knots to hold it. However, do not cut the string because adjustments may need to be made after the bustle feathers are on the bustle board.
Note - Although it is outside the scope of this tutorial, you can make a swing bustle by reversing the stringing process. Instead of starting with the bottom feather, start with the top feather, work your way stringing the feathers. When you've completed the stringing, don't tie the ends together. Rather, beads can be added and then the string can be tied onto the spike feathers, or they can go through holes drilled below the spike holes and tied off in the back of the bustle board.
Foam back board.
This is an optional step, but it provides an opportunity to see how the bustle will look on a bustle board. Foam board is cheap and comes in 20" x 30" x 3/16." Extra foam board will allow you to experiment until you get it right.
Bustle and trailer mounted on foam board.
Making the spike wires.
Black, plastic-coated hanger wire is cut and formed into a V shape.
Bend the two ends at approximately 3 1/2."
Slip the ends through two holes at the top of the board. On the backside, bend the two wires upward. Secure spike wire at the V point with sinew or thin wire.
Slide the spike feathers on to the wires to preview.
The spike feathers are two matching primary feathers. Depending on one's preference, they can be adorned with smaller feathers and fluffies. The feather shafts are long and thick; with the end snipped off, they can easily slide over the spike wires. But the spike feathers, because of their exposure, are sometimes subjected to damage, especially breakage to the shaft. In the method used here, a clear rubber tube is used (available at hardware stores) for support. The shaft, with a dab of contact cement, is inserted into the tube. Yarn is then wrapped around the tube.
The bustle board.
Most hardware stores carry craft plywood in size 12" x 24" x 1/4" (or 1/8"). For this bustle board, 1/4" plywood board is used. The bustle board varies in size, depending on one's preference. Some dancers prefer a bustle board that is just large enough to hold the bustle and the trailer isn't attached to the bustle board. The bustle board in this tutorial measures 7" x 9" x 1/4." It is intended to be worn with a 3" strap belt and a trailer.
Fully drilled bustle board.
Bustle board wrap
Bustle board can be painted or wrapped in cloth or leather. If cloth/leather is used, it can be glued down with contact cement on the backside. Use awl to punch through drilled holes, then re-drill the hole to clear out the material and allow easy access to slide loop lace, bustle spreader, etc. through.
Back of bustle board with belt loops.
Circular wood bustle spreader
Bustle spreaders come in a variety of shapes; many are usually beaded rosettes, mirrors, or painted wood. In this method, a piece of circular craft wood is used (available from craft stores). Two holes are drilled at the center and two small holes are drilled at two opposite edges.
The thongs from the back of the rosette are drawn through the two center holes. The rosette is secured to the wood piece with a thread of sinew through the two, small holes on the opposite edges.
Feather work is complete and ready to be strung on the bustle board.
String the feathers to the bustle board; string the bustle spreader through the center holes.
Readjusting the spacers.
It's not uncommon to readjust the spacers to get the look you want. For example, this bustle was still a bit flat. The bustle string was undone and, to achieve a better cone shape, three pony beads per spacer line was used (instead of four), two yellow opaque and one purple glass. The gap at the bottom feathers was too wide, so six pony beads (instead of eight) were used. The spacer string is then tied tight with two or three square knots and the excess string is cut.
© Photos and Text, All Rights Reserved, Robert DesJarlait, 2015