Kauai Powwow – A Native American Cultural Event

East Kauai


In the Native American Tradition, Powwows are large gatherings of people, friends and family.  The word originates from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader".  The deep historical roots of modern Powwows reach back to the early to mid 19th century when huge summer gatherings of tribes were held on the plains.  These days, they are contemporary and intertribal events where both native and non-native people meet to dance, sing, eat and socialize.  Powwows can last from one to three days, even up to a week long.  The Powwow is an opportunity for Native American and First Nations People to follow dances that were started centuries ago by their ancestors.

Singing and drums, as well as colorful dancing fills the Kapaa Beach Park on a special weekend in early fall each year on Kauai, for the Annual Kauai Powwow.  Kauai Powwow Council began as a non-profit organization in 1996 when four Kauai residents who were of Native American descent had a vision of providing a cultural event, a traditional Native American Powwow, for the Kauai community.  It has since become an annual event, usually held on the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October. 

Dr Kani Blackwell, affectionately known as ‘Dr B’, has volunteered with the Council since 2004, and is passionate about celebrating her culture and having it be recognized.  Her life as a full time educator was inspired by her mother advising her at a young age that ‘education is the answer’.  Dr B, who is Cherokee, has put her heart and soul into the organization of the Kauai Powwow and firmly believes that the values of Native Americans and Native Hawaiians are very close in spirit.  The values of kuleana (responsibility), ohana (family), mana’o (knowledge), na’au (morals), mana (spirit), amd kino (health) correlate with the Ten Indian Commandments which include respect for the earth and fellow beings, doing what is right, and taking full responsibility of your actions.  In this way, the Kauai Powwow provides a unique opportunity for an intercultural experience for Hawaiian and Native American people alike.  As well as traditional Native American drumming, the powwow is interwoven with Hawaiian Hula and Polynesian dancing.  Taiko Drumming and African Drumming circles are also a part of the celebrations.   There is a variety of traditional Native American artworks and crafts to browse and purchase, and food to sample including the delicious ‘fry bread’, as well as buffalo meat, and this year the entire menu is organic.

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Dr Blackwell, with nearly 50 years of experience as an educator, says that despite the widespread use of the internet, many children still see Native American culture as history and ‘long ago’.  She said that in a recent School Outreach Program, where the magic of the powwow reaches out to hundreds of keiki, a young fourth-grade girl approached her and said ‘Dr B, I didn’t know REAL Indians still existed”.  Upon hearing this it dawned upon her that the powwow provides a cultural exchange that is directly experienced in a way that book (or internet) knowledge cannot.

Totally community-oriented, the Kauai Powwow is truly a gathering – it is very interactive not merely a performance.  Visitors are encouraged to join in some of the dances, drum circles and are invited to give donations, although the event itself is free.  The sweetest part was the ‘give-away’, where small gifts of jewelry and handmade crafts were distributed throughout the audience to say thank you for attending.  The Kauai Powwow is a rejuvenating and truly memorable experience. 

The 17th Annual Kauai Powwow is in late September / early October of 2015.  For more information visit www.kauaipowwow.com or phone: (808) 647 4285 

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Latitude: 22.0753014
Longitude: -159.3169938

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