Dictionary.com, a popular website of definitions and synonyms, defines a pow wow as an event where Native Americans — wait for it — practice “magic,” ICTMN discovered Monday.
In its official definition, the website writes that a ‘powwow’ is “[among North American Indians] a ceremony, especially one accompanied by magic, feasting, and dancing, performed for the cure of disease, success in a hunt, etc.”
The discovery of the curious definition comes weeks after a heated debate surrounding author J.K. Rowling’s latest series, “A History of Magic In North America.” In it, fictional Native Americans practice witchcraft and wizardry. Rowling is the author of the widely-successful ‘Harry Potter’ series.
Sarah Ortegon, a jingle dress dancer who is currently studying fancy shawl, told ICTMN Monday that although the beauty of pow wows can “cast a spell” on viewers, it is not magic in its official definition.
“We do not practice magic while we dance. We use our bodies to tell living stories that have [been] passed on from generation to generation,” she wrote in a message. “Although, the ultimate goal of colonialism was to make our way of life disappear, pow wows have only helped keep some of our traditions alive.”
Ortegon, who is Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, said that magic “is the power to perform mysterious tricks. Usually performed as entertainment. For example, making things disappear or appear before your very eyes. [There are] no magic tricks [at pow wows],” she emphasized.
On Monday evening, prominent Native American voices, including Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations, and hip-hop artist Frank Waln, were already slamming the website’s definition. Other Twitter users also chimed in with their own musings:
Dictionary.com did not immediately respond to ICTMN’s request for comment.
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is the Culture Editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him @Simonmoyasmith.