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Gaa-dibenjikewaach: Manitou, Personhood, and Relationships in Powwow Malerial Culture

As Anishinaabe Kwe and a powwow dancer for over 25 years, my intention is to bring about awareness and an understanding of animate subjects through the social lens of powwow participation. The purpose of this Anishinaabe inquiry is to understand the relationship dancers have with Companions having Spirit such as Eagle feathers, Fans, Dance Sticks, and Regalia. My inquiry creates a space that allows Anishinaabe voices to be heard as powwow dancers share their stories and experiences. My inquiry asks: How do powwow participants understand Spirit in their Companions? How does a relationship with Companions and Regalia shape cultural embodiment and movement vocabulary? What movements are (re)created and (re)discovered through coaxing the embodied archive to divulge the repertoire through Manitou engagement? How have powwow dancers learned style and movement vocabulary from interacting with Companions? What is a dancer’s experience with Manitou and Regalia?

Anishinaabe worldview recognizes Manitou (Spirit, consciousness, or mind) in some items such as Drums, Regalia, Eagle Feathers, Fans, and Bustles. As animate material culture, Gaa-dibenjikewaach (meaning Beings who govern us and from whom we inherit our responsibilities) come to us from Spirit with intention and agency, and act as Partners, Companions, Teachers, and Helpers. Gaa-dibenjikewaach converse with our bodies and spirits through feelings, impressions, or dreams. As dancers, Gaa-dibenjikewaach teach us through movement vocabulary and cultural embodiment. Blood memory answers the call of the powwow drum and the transformative power of dance mobilizes Anishinaabe bodies. Eagle feathers, animate with Manitou and alive with agency, bounce in braids and Bustles as Anishinaabe people dance stories and embody Spirit relationships with these Companions. Just as one has never actually seen the wind, but experienced the sensation or seen the results, Anishinaabe worldview recognizes Spirit in animate subjects or Companions that are in conversation with our own Spirit, even if we cannot see them.

My research will be conducted within the territory covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt, an area that encompasses the watershed of the Great Lakes region. Being Algonquin and part of the Anishinaabe Nation that recognizes this agreement, this area is culturally appropriate to gather stories from powwow participants.

[photo by Irina Popova]