One day as I was creeping people on Facebook I saw a breathtaking, top-notch, museum quality war shirt. It was carefully beaded in sky blue seed beads and had horse hair ties intricately wrapped running along the fringe. I clicked on the picture and suddenly I was transported to the timeline of Mikhail Vinogradov; a Russian pow-wow enthusiast. Yes, I said Russian.
When I delved further into his timeline and started creeping on his friends I came to discover what I’d only heard in reservation fairy tales – that somewhere, in a land far, far away there was a town full of German people who lived like Indians.
Turns out its not a fairy tale, and that in fact Eastern Europe is full of people who legitimately pow wow. They aren’t Ongwehowe at all but have devoted their lives to researching Ongwehowe ceremonies, traditions, crafts and dancing. The Pow Wow People of Russia have actually created an entire sub-culture of weekend indigenous life right in the middle of Europe. They have retreats where they will sleep in tipis that they make themselves, hold sweats, have naming ceremonies and hold dance contests – “just like the red man”.
This makes a lot of actual indigenous people angry. Understandably so. The story of colonization first removed the indigenous people from our territories and then forcibly separated our ancestors from our culture. Further to that, Victorian times thought it appropriate tokenize Indians and romanticize ‘savages’ through things like Peter Pan and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Because of this history, the sight of European men and women gathering around the big drum, singing victory songs and speaking Lakota can absolutely be taken as adding insult to injury. However because they are doing so much research into what is actually authentic, there is yet a layer of separation between this kind of tokenization and things like mascotry done by professional sports teams in the USA or some idiot wearing a cartoonish replica headdress at Coachella. Just one look at the amount of work going into the Russian Pow Wow People’s regalia, all pieces handmade by themselves, and you start to get an understanding of their level of commitment to pow wow life.
Before we grab hold of the megaphone and cry out misappropriation…could it be that these Russian enthusiasts believe that they are legitimately trying to honour us – albeit in a very awkward kind of way? Is what these Russian Pow Wow People are doing different than Khloe Kardashian’s now infamous Instagram picture of herself sitting cross-legged and becoming “one with water” while wearing a replica headdress?
All bad feelings aside this strange and unusual Russian hobby had my curiosity was piqued, so I reached out to Mikhail and asked him how the Russian Pow Wow went this weekend. Without passing judgement, here is our conversation and the photos he shared with me as proof that European Pow Wow Culture is more than a fairy tale. (BTW I am totally jealous of this guys beadwork skills. o_O…scroll down and see for yourself!)
What is your cultural background?
How did you first hear about pow-wows?
About Pow Wow and Native Culture I heard in the childhood, reading books. I then was about 12 years old. Now I am 43 years old and all this time I studied books, I learned to do various Native items and Pow Wow regalia.
Where did you learn to dance and make regalia?
Are there many people who dance and pow wow in your country?
Why do you choose to participate in cultural things that are of a different culture other than your own?
It is a difficult question. Probably, it happened because of many reasons. Many children in that time when I was a child watched movies and read books where Indians are shown by noble, courageous people. We wanted to be similar to them. Some of us, having become adults, continued this way. But now we don’t play anymore, we study this culture. We show respect for this culture. And we don’t understand why sometimes Native people have a negative opinion about as. We don’t steal their culture. We try to inform it to people in our country.