Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Comparative Religion

First Advisor

Dr. Brian C. Wilson

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Falk

Third Advisor

Dr. Carolyn Podruchny

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


This study investigates the powwow and its role in pan-Indian identity formation. Powwows are regional gatherings that simultaneously employ sacred and secular rituals, and as such, they provide one arena for the negotiation of American Indian identity in the modern world. Through a discussion of the history and general format of the powwow, I will demonstrate that the powwow is a dynamic locus of cultural transmission through which both reservation and non-reservation Indians are able to construct and maintain identity on tribal as well as inter-tribal (pan-Indian) levels.

To illuminate the process of identity formation within the powwow, this study will focus on two issues: the introduction of the contest powwow and the role of Vietnam veterans as powwow leaders. Contest dances for cash prizes appeared approximately 25 years ago and are influencing immensely the transmission of American Indian traditions. Indeed, I will argue that the contest powwow is a threat to both the powwow and to pan-Indian identity in general. Through an exploration of the role of the Vietnam veteran in the powwow, I will argue that because of their unique position within American Indian society, veterans are crucial to the growth of pan-lndianism among urban Indians.