Skip to main content
TahlequahNow (first pub. 2011)

Powwow brings Native Americans together

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

by Keith Purtell

photo of Hunter Williams, age 3, at 2011 powwow in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Hunter Williams, age 3, in 2011

Three-year-old Hunter Williams could barely wait to join the grand entry at the Friday-night powwow. He had traveled with his parents, John Williams and Lindsey Ketcher-Williams of Oklahoma City, to the 59th Cherokee National Holiday, and this was one of the high points.

His parents helped him adjust his regalia: a red shirt with white ribbons, blue loincloth, two feather-tipped poles on his back, a star-cluster of feathers below that, and his long brown hair braided in traditional fashion. He also carried a red staff with a horse-hair tassel.

John Spocogee Williams said his son was born for powwows.

"He's been dancing since he was crawling," Williams said. "Lindsey has been doing this since she was walking. She's been to powwows all around the country."

Ed Ketcher, Hunter's grandfather. Photo courtesy Joe Byrd, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Ed Ketcher

Hunter's grandfather, Ed Ketcher, proudly added to that.

"She's traveled all over the world to countries like Canada and Germany," he said.

Cherokee Nation citizen Ketcher-Williams began dancing at an early age and learned from friends and family. She has become known for her red beadwork regalia, signifying her Wolf Clan.

Her regalia was carefully beaded by an aunt, and is worn for both sentimental and traditional reasons.

A powwow education courtesy of OsiyoTV

John Williams said he is Muscogee (Creek) and the rest of his family is Cherokee. They've been going to powwows since long before Hunter was born. His wife's travels are for more than personal enjoyment.

"It's helping to educate people about Native American traditions," he said. "We also come here for the camaraderie and the friendships. If you go to powwows, you start to see a lot of the same people."

Powwows are more than just a traditional Native American social gathering and ceremony, Williams said.

"It's to keep a good tradition alive," he said, "and to see all the young people coming up and learning.

Part of the opening of the powwow, the grand entry began. A slow procession of colorfully-dressed people entered from the east and circled.

photo of elder native dancers at 2011 powwow in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Elder native dancers at 2011 powwow in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Each of the dominant male dancers wore unique regalia. Some danced lightly, others with drama and style. They moved in step to a steady beat maintained by a group of men playing large traditional drums in the center. A group of men and women around the drums sang in Cherokee.

"A powwow is a gathering to bring Natives together and to re-identify themselves with who they are and what they have lost. It is a cry for what was ours, what is still ours. A powwow is something that can pull out the meaning of that native self."
-- Ernestine Cody, White Mountain Apache

The entry included the Cherokee Nation Color Guard, elder dancers, men from their teens to their 50s, followed by the women in more subtle clothing, and the children.

photo of younger native dancers at 2011 powwow in Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Younger native dancers at 2011 powwow in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

From among the youngest, Hunter ran to his father. It was only 8 p.m., but Williams said much more was in store.

"They say it goes to 10, but if we're on schedule, it'll probably last until midnight," he said.

For more information about the Cherokee National Holiday, visit the Cherokee National Holiday website to see details.

For more information about powwows, visit

Hunter Williams in dance regalia, near a bench draped with a native blanket. (2011, Tahlequah, Oklahoma)
Hunter Williams in dance regalia, near a bench draped with a native blanket. (2011, Tahlequah, Oklahoma)

In memory of Hunter's father...

photo of John 'Spocogee' Williams; March 23, 1967-July 3, 2023
In memory of John Spocogee Williams; 1967-2023. See his obituary here.

"The powwow celebration also incorporates the Native spiritual conviction that life and death follow a continuous, sacred circle. Tribal drums, dancing, food, chanting, and traditional healing rituals are all a part of the gathering. It's also used as an opportunity to act out ancient stories handed down through the generations, keeping their history alive."

photo of Hunter Williams at the 2019 Cherokee National Holiday | ©2019 by The Cherokee Holiday
Hunter in 2019 at the Cherokee National Holiday. Second place in the junior boys "traditional" category. Photo ©2019 by the Cherokee National Holiday.

"The term 'powwow' derives from Pau Wau, meaning 'medicine man' in Narrtick, a language spoken by the Algonquian peoples in Massachusetts. English settlers began misusing the word to refer to the meetings of Indigenous medicine men, and later to any kind of American Indian gathering. American Indians have since reclaimed the term."
--Sacred Springs History of Powwows