Experience the Power of the Powwow in Page, Arizona

by | 4 Feb 2024

“The opportunity to share this spirituality and cultural heritage with so many people... is what drives us."

Drumming, singing, flamboyant regalia and intoxicating dancing. The powwow is both huge fun, and at the same time a deeply spiritual and sacred event in Native American culture. You’re invited to experience the power of the powwow in Arizona, a gateway to some of America’s most magnificent National Parks. Here, in Page, the Red Heritage Indigenous Entertainment Hall showcases this sacred tradition for all to enjoy.

Portrait photo of Tomas Hunter

To learn more, we spoke Tomas, who founded Red Heritage along with his wife. A member of the Navajo Nation and this week’s Insightful destination expert, he explains that  “powwows are gatherings of different Native American people who come together to compete and dance and to socialise. As well as being important to our cultural heritage, they’re a lot of fun for everyone. Tomas also inspired this week’s Insightful travel trivia questions.

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Just 6 miles from Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is located on land that was once used for grazing antelope, hence it’s name.

Everyone is welcome

In 2021 Tomas and his wife founded the Red Heritage Indigenous Entertainment Hall in Page, to experience the powwow in Arizona. A Native American performing arts theater, it showcases awe-inspiring local talent, from powwow dancers, to flutists and drummers.

A dancer himself, Thomas tells us that this had always been a dream of his. “In high school I was dancing for many tour operators, and I wanted to create an outlet in Page that would bring together performers.  Where we could just do one big show for everyone.

“And on top of that, we’d have an outlet for younger generation in order to learn the dances and be able to spread that awareness of culture. It’s open to the general public, so people of any heritage and background can come together. Not necessarily to participate, but also to watch and enjoy the dancing.”

If you’re wondering who can go to a powwow, the answer is that everyone is invited. When you travel with Insight you’ll visit Red Heritage, dine on delicious tacos and enjoy a sensational  show. A MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience, as well as fabulous entertainment, this visit is a unique opportunity to connect with Navajo culture, and helps preserve traditions for future generations. Hear the timeless origin stories of the dances and through the performance learn about Native American heritage.

Discover this on: Enchanting Canyonlands, America’s Magnificent National Parks


Why is it called a powwow?

As explained by the Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the term powwow “derives from Pau Wau, meaning “medicine man” in Narrtick, a language spoken by the Algonquian peoples in Massachusetts.” They say that English settlers began misusing the word to refer to the meetings of Indigenous medicine men, and later to any kind of American Indian gathering.

Each dance has a reason

“Each one of the dances has its origins with a specific tribe, and from there, its shared with all the different tribes in the United States and into Canada,” Tomas tells us. “Each dance that is conducted has very specific reason for the for why it’s happening. Some dances are done for healing, some are done for storytelling, some are done for blessings, and others are done out of excitement and joy.

Learn more about how Tomas and his wife showcase the powwow in Arizona: Mixing business and pleasure: meet 3 couples proving it can work

A chance for youth to connect with their tribes

“In the United States there are 574 federally recognised tribes,” says Tomas. “So, when people refer to Native American people, that’s a generalisation of 574 unique tribes that have their own history, heritage, culture and language. As Native Americans, we are a minority within the United States, and we want to be able to offer a connection to the youth.

“They don’t necessarily want to learn our culture and heritage because it’s not as fun, as Facebook or tik tok for example. However, by learning these dances and being able to express themselves through the movement, hopefully from there young people will be able to ask a deeper question – why are we doing these dances. Then from there, hopefully that will continue a domino effect of asking and answering more questions about their history, their culture, their heritage and their language.”

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a close up shot of a brown bear’s face, with shaggy brown fur

A powwow can vary in length from hours to days. Major powwows usually last a week.

The power of the drum

“In powwow we use a pretty sizable drum,” Tomas says. “You’re able to fit 10 to 15 people at this drum and each person is tapping. The drums are circular representing the circle of life – the drum itself and the sound that it produces represents the heartbeat of our grandfathers, Mother Earth and ourselves.

“When we’re singing and dancing to the songs, the drum is telling us how fast or how slow to dance. So, we’re able to move with the circle of life within the rhythm of the drum.

If you love dance, then we recommend reading: Discover the art of flamenco with the Cristina Heeren Foundation

A sacred ceremony of prayers

“The songs in a powwow represent prayer,” explain Tomas, when explaining what happens during a powwow.“When a person sings first by themselves, that represents an individual saying a prayer. And then from there, when everyone jumps in together that represents your ancestors praying with you. So, these songs that we’re singing are prayers.

“Here at Red heritage, when people experience the powwow in Arizona, we invite everybody to take photos, make recordings and enjoy themselves. But when you go to a powwow, you need to remember that these are sacred, important settings that are taking place. Prayers are happening – the songs are prayers, as is the dancing. So, it is important to ask permission before you take photos or recordings because some people may not want it.

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Share in a deeply spiritual experience

“At these powwows, you must take into consideration the fact that each one of these dances, go back for generations,” says Tomas. “They originate with something that can be very spiritual to Native American people. It’s not just some person dancing for fun (though it is a huge amount of fun) these dances convert from a very spiritual place in our lives.

“The opportunity to share this spirituality and cultural heritage with so many people, in such a fun setting, is what drives us all at Red Heritage.”

To experience the power of the powwow in Arizona for yourself, and connect with Navajo culture thorough this MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® experience, take a look at our Enchanting Canyonlands, America’s Magnificent National Parks premium tours.

If you’re a curious traveller, why not test your travel knowledge with our fun weekly quiz, Insightful travel trivia, with the chance to win travel prizes.

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.