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The Powwow Report . . .


Is “brushing” or whistling of the drum becoming commonplace at North Carolina powwows?

This event was produced by the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and sponsored by the tribe, a grant from the N.C. Grassroots Arts Program of the N.C. Arts Council and the Orange County Arts Commission..

John “Blackfeather” Jeffries was MC. Head dancers were Doug Logan and Phyllis Campbell. Host drum was Eastern Bull Singers. Other drums present were Yesah or People’s Drum from Virginia and Running Elk of Maxton, NC.

Unofficially, we would say 100-125 dancers were present at the event.

We counted 25 craft vendors and two primary food concession booths.


The temperatures and weather were not quite as hot as they have been in the past at this powwow.

We were able to visit with friends that we had not seen in a couple of years.


We were at this powwow from approximately 12:30 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Saturday. We did not attend the Friday night session. In that time period, we witnessed three “brushings” of the drum by two different male traditional dancers. This practice is called whistling the drum when an eagle bone whistle is used; brushing when a feather is used. It is generally done when a dancer feels moved to honor a drum for the song they are singing. Male traditional dancers gather around or near the drum and each dancer takes a turn at dancing to the song. Some Natives we know put a somewhat spiritual significant to the occurrence; other Natives we know do not.

We realize we cannot question a dancer’s inner feelings, but we also know that we have attended many powwows both here on the East Coast and in the mid-West during the past 10 years and we have witnessed a brushing of the drum only once in that time. The current abundance of brushings seems to have started at the Frisco, NC powwow in late April and continued through the Craven County powwow in New Bern in May and now to the Hillsborough event.

The brushings are accompanied by the MC yelling into the microphone for people to not take any pictures or record the dancing at the drum with videotape. “No photographs! Put down your cameras! Turn off your cameras! No photographs!” is practically hollered at everyone. We found this distracting rather than informative or even entertaining.

We will leave it up to individual readers to draw their own conclusions about this relatively new occurrence at N.C. powwows.


Other than being bothered by number of brushings of the drum in such a short time span, this is a fairly well organized and executed powwow. There is an interesting mix of dancers and dance styles at this event as well as an interesting mix of regalia. Overall, this event caused us to begin contemplating the subtle differences between a powwow for Native Americans and a show for the public. We wonder just where that line is crossed.

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