Thursday, July 20, 2017

Southern Powwow Flag Protocol

Recently, I have been asked by numerous folks when I planned on posting again.  My answer was, I hadn’t had anything that jumped out at me – until now (and it's been a busy year).  I’m going to talk about Powwow Grand Entries for a bit and explain a little about Flag Protocol and Veteran Protocol.  I invite comments and feedback on this subject.  In fact, I encourage it. 

I will preface this by saying the vast majority of my experience is Southern Protocol powwows, even though I started as a Northern (bustle) dancer.  Southern Protocol powwows are those influenced by tribes of the southern plains – Comanche, Kiowa, Ponca, Alabama-Coushatta, and so many more.  In my life, I have been to many powwows across the US (California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana, and Kansas).  All of them southern protocol, by the way.  I have been fortunate to be part of the Grand Entry carrying the flags of different States, Tribal and Powwow Organizations, Military, and even the US Flag on many occasions, as well.  I have been Head Man, Head Veteran, MC, and Arena Director at a few dances, too. 

I live in Texas - the shortest drive to get out of the state is two hours.  Travel opportunities further north or east just haven’t been feasible for the most part.  One of these days, I will get to Crow Fair, Ft. Washakie, Denver March, and maybe even a dance or two up in Canada, if they’ll allow a foreigner (i.e., Texan) that far north. 

But, the following seems to be standard for southern protocol powwows.

Grand Entry Dancer Order (southern protocol)
·         Flags & Veterans
·         Head Staff
·         Visiting Princesses
·         Straight Dancers
·         Northern Traditional Dancers (includes Crow style, Chicken, round bustle, and a few others)
·         Grass Dancers
·         Fancy Feather Dancers
·         Southern Ladies (cloth & buckskin)
·         Northern Ladies (cloth & buckskin)
·         Jingle
·         Fancy Shawl
·         The order repeats for the children at this point.  But, small children often accompany a parent, enter with the appropriate group of adults, or possibly even just enter in very little order because they are children. 

Occasionally, we will see a dancer in an outfit that doesn’t quite fit into one of those categories, for example, dancers dressed in traditional Cherokee, Seminole, Haida, or Iroquois clothes (to name only a few).  It’s up to the AD and/or the dancer’s experience to determine where they line up in the Grand Entry.  Most often, I’ve seen them in the Northern Traditional section, actually.

Grand Entry Song Order
·         Grand Entry song
·         Flag Song – for those of you not in the know, this is equivalent to the National Anthem, and all appropriate honors and recognitions should be followed here.  All other flags in the procession should dip in honor of the US Flag and the US Flag should be held straight up and/or elevated above the others.
·         Prayer and/or Memorial song or a suitably appropriate prayer or somber song
·         Victory song or Veterans song – veterans dance the flags out of the arena, usually passing around the entire arena once and then posting the flags in the appropriate locations at the MC stand.

Caveat: the MC, AD, or Head Singer can preempt certain songs or change the order slightly at their discretion, based on need, time, or other reasons.

Direction of dancing
I was taught when I was young, and have had reiterated to me many, many, many times, we enter from the East when coming into the arena.  This is where the sun comes from, it is where life comes from, and the powwow arena, much like the war dance circle, is intended to represent the inside of a lodge or tipi.  Environmental factors dictated why tipis faced east predominantly – prevailing winds, storms, etc.  I was also taught the lodge’s entrance was to face east so the sun would wake the person who slept in the most respected position in the lodge.  I am sure there are many other reasons for lodges facing east.  

The important point is the powwow arena represents those lodges and should be entered from the East to represent that.  When entering a lodge, you pass to your left and move around the center, or, as a Kiowa gentleman once told me “move sunwise”.  I am aware that there are tribal influences that dictate a different direction of travel in the arena.  But, again, I am speaking specifically of the Southern protocol powwows I have experienced.  I’ve said before, and heard it again recently, “when in Rome, do as the Romans” – which means, if the protocol is to ‘move sunwise’, whether it is your tradition or not, you go with the prevailing protocol, unless the MC or AD states otherwise.

It is also my experience that the MC stand/stage should be opposite the entrance.  My understanding is that when the Head Staff stands in front of the MC for their Specials, it is because they are representing the Headsmen and Leaders of the tribe (in this case, the event or organization).  The position of respect in the lodge is opposite the entrance.  So this is why the MC stand, out of respect to - and a bit of convenience for - those persons, the MC stand should be opposite the entrance to the arena.

US Flag Code
The Us Flag Code is only part of a much larger US Code.  It describes the design of the flag, how to respect the flag properly, and so much more.  I highly encourage all readers to read the US Flag code.  It is written in legalese, so some of the writing takes re-reading a few times to grasp fully.  But, this Code dictates the manner in which we respect our flag.  It is important.

Section 175 – Position and Manner of Display
“The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.”
Subsection c, states, among other things: “No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.”
Subsection k – “When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.”

Section 176 – Respect for the flag“No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.”
Subsection c – “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.“

The US Flag Code can be found on several websites. Here are some for reference:

Additional Considerations
That covers the basics, but there is more - from a tradition standpoint - to think about.  Most of the powwows I have been to have had the flags carried in by veterans in single- or double-file.  In this case, and according to the US Flag Code, the US Flag should lead the way.  Sometimes it can be accompanied by the Indian Flag, or Eagle Staff, but should be preeminent in the procession.

If you have ever seen the flag patches on US Military uniforms, they appear to be backward, according to the Code above.  But, in fact, they are representing the flag blowing in the breeze (For more information on Army Regulation 670-1,  I was once told that this is to represent the many battles this flag has endured and been carried into.  The flag should be waving, not stationary, and certainly not cased (or held down and not allowed to fly), when being brought into the dance arena. 

The US Flag and other flags are traditionally carried by veterans, whether they saw combat or not.  Other veterans escort the US Flag into the arena during the Grand Entry, acting as an honor guard or color guard.  They dance behind the flag-bearers, stand to when the flag is stationary, salute when appropriate (see Us Flag code for manner of proper saluting – veterans under arms or while wearing a cover are allowed to use a military salute instead of the hand over the heart), and escort the flag to its post, dancing it out of the arena.  I have seen some groups who dance in the POW/MIA flag, but move opposite the direction the other dancers take.  Again, this is not my training, but I can find nothing in any protocol related to carrying that particular flag, so I cannot speak to this in more depth.

Normally, during Grand Entry the flags enter the arena, pass in front of the MC stand, pass by the entrance again, and then stop facing East from in front of the MC stand but near the center of the arena, allowing all other dancers time to enter the arena during the Grand Entry.  This means they have made one-and-a-half circuits of the arena.  In especially large dances, the number of circuits can be extended, if necessary.  When the Victory or Veterans song is sung, those dancers carrying and guarding the US Flag dance one circuit around the arena and head toward the MC Stand where the flags are posted – US flag on the MC’s right (audience’s left) and all other flags and standards on the MC’s left (audience’s right).  I will admit that usually when an Eagle Staff is carried in, it is usually posted near the US Flag, but still in accordance with the Flag Code (meaning to the US Flag’s left, or closer to the center of the MC’s stand).

Sometimes a specific Color Guard – college ROTC cadets, VFW, American Legion, or some other civic or military honor group - will provide four or more individuals in appropriate uniforms (or ‘under arms’) and accoutrements (covers, gloves, rifles, etc.) to march the flag into the arena.  Much like at a sporting event, they will march to their own cadence, and call their own orders for presenting the colors properly.  On several occasions, I have seen the veterans organize themselves enough to carry the flags into the arena in this manner, as well.  At the AD’s discretion, the remaining veterans dance to where the flags are displayed and line up on both sides of the Color Guard, or they can dance separately - leading the procession, or they can dance with their respective dance styles.

Of course, with all things involving the arena, the AD (Arena Director) has the final say.  Some of us vets are a bit hard-headed and will not want to leave our Colors behind, though.  “Never let the flag fall, and never leave a man behind” are mottos almost all of us can get behind.  But, there should remain a respect for the position of Arena Director, even then.  He’s just trying to keep the dance orderly and moving – I’ve been there, I get it.  So, a polite discussion can be had, but if the AD says ‘do it my way’, do it his way.

What do the other dancers do during the Grand Entry Veterans song?
This is a little tricky.  But, ‘when in Rome…’.  Here’s what I have seen most often.  When the veterans are dancing out the flags, all other dancers dance in place.  In recent years, I have seen a plethora of people raising their fans or dance sticks when the flag passes by.  I cannot speak to the reasons for this, because it was not how I was taught ‘lo those many years ago. 

What should everyone else be doing Grand Entry?
Out of respect for the flags and the veterans or Color Guards carrying the flags, and the Head Staff following them into the arena, it is asked that all who are able stand for the duration of the Grand Entry.  Usually, the MC will address this over the microphone, so those who are unaware can be made aware.  Once the flags have been posted, the dancing kicks off with Round Dances or other intertribal dancing, as the Organization and/or Head Staff has deemed appropriate.  At this point, the audience can take a seat – again the MC should notify the audience of this, as well. 

Veterans songs at the end of the Powwow
At many southern powwows, near the end of the evening, right before the final prayer or closing song, one or two Veterans Songs may be sung.  The MC should announce what the protocol would be in this case.  For instance, he may ask that the first song be for veterans only, and the second for their families or anyone who has a loved one in the service.  I was told when I was younger, and practiced this until I joined the military, that non-servicemembers or non-veterans were supposed to take off any headwear they had on during these veterans particular songs.  I don’t recall the reasons for this, though, having been lost to the annals of time.  But, one can imagine this is out of respect for those veterans on the dance floor.  One might even suppose that because the roach was once a warrior’s headdress, those not affiliated with the military should not wear them during those final veterans songs, if they choose to dance.  You could even think that by taking off the roach and dancing, you are recognizing your association to another warrior or veteran.  I honestly do not recall the whys and wherefores associated with that teaching, however.  I just know I respected the men who taught me, and they taught me not to wear the roach during those songs – until I became a veteran myself.

Follow up
I’d like to know if Northern protocol powwows are vastly different in scope, scale, direction, or method of approach to those of southern powwows.  Please let me know if you have any questions, or insight into what I have written.