Don’t Call it a Costume

Regalia for pow wows can take many months to create. The event also serves as a place for extended family members to catch up. Photo by Carmen Arkansas Nations.

Regalia for pow wows can take many months to create. The event also serves as a place for extended family members to catch up. Photo by Carmen Arkansas Nations.

Melody Miko is Eastern Band Cherokee, a U.S. Navy veteran, and the mother of two grown children. She has family ties in southern West Virginia and western Virginia, and now lives near Maggie Valley. Miko is also Head Lady at this year’s Spring Pow Wow in Tryon, sponsored by the American Indian Cultural Association. She will be leading the other women into the arena, beginning each of the many traditional dances.

“People always see something they’ve never seen before,” she says, “because it’s never the same.”

Bold Life: How did you begin dancing?
Melody Miko: We used to live in Milwaukee, and I went to a community center there run by the Potawatomi. They had practices on certain days, drumming on certain days, crafting on certain days — you could come and just learn whatever, so I started dancing there, and I’ve been dancing ever since. I danced Fancy Shawl for many, many years, and then I tore the meniscus in my knee, and the doctor said I can’t jump up and down anymore. So now I dance Southern Cloth Traditional.

What’s the history of those dances?
The Fancy Shawl is the newest. Women wanted to dance like the mens’ Fancy Bustle dance, so they put their shawl over their shoulders and started trying to dance like them. But the Southern Traditional dance started from when the women just stood around the edge of the circle while the men danced, and they would move in place. And then over time they moved into the circle around the outer edges. It’s very old.

What is the meaning of the Pow Wow, and how did it come about?
It came about in the Plains. Some of the tribes would come together to camp, and they would dance. It’s sort of like a social event. It’s not really a religious experience like some people think it is. It’s a family gathering. You haven’t been pow wowing all winter, and then you get to see friends that live far away. You can catch up on what they’re doing and what their kids are doing.

There are different types of pow wows. This one is an inner-tribal or social pow wow, so anybody can come, and anybody can dance. The public can typically sit near the dancers, and talk to them, if they approach respectfully. And when they call for an inner-tribal song, the public can actually get in a circle and dance with us.

The costumes are amazing…No, no, no, we don’t call them costumes. Because costumes are things like you wear to Halloween or whatever, and you’re pretending to be something you’re not. So we call them regalia, or outfits.

The regalia, rather — it seems like it would take all year to prepare that.
Yes, it does. Sometimes longer. And traditionally the entire family would contribute, people making certain parts of the outfit for someone. I did all of my beadwork, and my sister made one of my outfits, and my cousin made the other.

37th AICA Powwow, May 8-9. The Foothills Equestrian and Nature Center, 3381 Hunting Country Road, Tryon.

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