Amanda Martinez in her regalia, photographed by Isadora Pennington

Pow wows are a longstanding tradition among Native American and First Nation communities. Centered around traditional dance and dance competitions, pow wows offer an opportunity for Indigenous people to socialize, sing, perform, educate, and celebrate their culture. Dancers often create their own vibrant and colorful regalia, incorporating elements that hold special significance for them personally and for their communities. In this way, being an indigenous dancer calls upon the individual to channel their creativity both through movement – these dances are an active worship – with the peaceful and methodical art of sewing and design. 

Amanda Martinez in her Jingle Dress regalia, provided

“Dancing just makes your soul happy,” said Jingle Dress dancer Amanda Martinez, who recently performed at the Native American Festival and Pow Wow on the grounds of Stone Mountain on Nov. 5, 2022. “Dancing is really a part of who I am, and dancing is a big part of who Natives are in general,” Martinez explained. She has been dancing in pow wows since she was about 11 years old, predominantly doing Women’s Fancy Shawl dancing and occasionally Women’s Traditional until she made the switch to Jingle Dress. 

Considered a medical dance, participating in the Jingle Dress requires an invitation from an elder Jingle dress dancer. It was one of Martinez’s friends who she had known since her teen years that gave her the permission to do the dance. For Martinez, transitioning to Jingle Dress was due to her diagnosis of fibromyalgia. “The Fancy Dance is a lot more rigorous and hard on the body. It’s a lot more fast paced and I reached the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I decided to move into Jingle.”

“It has a lot of healing to it no matter what style you’re doing. The dancing and the drum, it has a lot of healing to it. It just makes you feel good.”

Until the pandemic brought large gatherings to a halt, Martinez was on the road five to six times a year in order to attend pow wows both regionally and across the country. She has brought her two children, Rylan, 16 and Caitlyn, 24, to pow wows for their entire lives, and has been making their regalia as well as her own throughout the years. Today, Ryland does the Chicken Dance, while Caitlyn also does Jingle Dress. 

Martinez explained that the Jingle Dress originates from the Ojibwe people that is characterized by light footwork danced close to the ground and regalia outfitted with metal cones which make a jingling sound. Some tribes have very specific rules about the number of cones, requiring 365 cones to represent each day of the year, while other tribes have no such rule and instead leave the specifics of the regalia up to the individual. There are multiple origin stories of this dance and in several of them the performance, music, and jingling sound were used to heal an ill child. Meanwhile, the Chicken Dance is a style that comes from the Plains tribes and is a bright, energetic style that is meant to imitate the prairie chicken. Altogether there are 7 types of dances one might see at a pow wow: Men’s Fancy, Grass, Prairie Chicken, and Traditional while female dances include Women’s Fancy, Jingle, and Traditional. 

Dancing is not only a part of Martinez’s identity, it is also an outlet for her creativity, a means of connection with her culture, an opportunity to connect with friends and expand her network, and a tradition to pass down to her children. 

“My dad’s family is descended from the Western Band of the Cherokee tribe, and my mother’s family comes from the eastern tribe of the Cherokee tribe,” said Martinez. Though she has known of her Native descent for her whole life, her paternal grandfather didn’t like to talk about it. For many years there was a stigma attached to having Indigenous ancestry and her grandfather only opened up about their family’s heritage in his later years. “There wasn’t a lot of tradition in my family until I started pow wowing, that’s when I started picking up on the traditional aspects and I’ve tried to pass that onto my kids by teaching them about it. I’m kind of bringing it back to the family.” 

Martinez told me that she has a few different dresses that she wears, but at the moment she has only one set of beadwork. “I’m currently in the process of making my son new beadwork and regalia because he has outgrown everything,” she said with a laugh. Making regalia requires creativity and sewing skills, which she learned from her paternal great grandmother who taught her how to hand sew. “I used to sit up under the quilting rack and help her with the quilts. When I was 10 my grandmother taught me how to use a sewing machine and I made a skirt for myself that weekend. I took that knowledge and moved it into making regalia. I’ve made other things for people over the years, but most of what I’ve made has been regalia.” 

Lamenting the number of Georgia pow wows that are no longer around, and following the suppression of outdoor gatherings during the pandemic, events such as this coming weekend’s inaugural First Voices Festival have provided increasing opportunities for dancers such as Martinez to come out and perform. 

The First Voices Festival is the first ever to take place in Little 5 Points, taking over the Little 5 Points Soccer Field from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 19. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $7, and daytime events will include Native American flutists, dancers, drummers, vendors, and dialogues with the Grand Entry at noon. Traditional elements of the pow wow will be led by Emcee Buffalo Yellowbird, Headlady Nikki Crisp, Headman Paul Wilson, Host Drum Group Southside, and will include traditional dances including Men’s Fancy, Women’s Fancy Shawl, Jingle Dress, Golden Age, Tiny Tots and more. 

The festival is curated by Master of Ceremonies Buffalo Yellowbird who is a member of the Lakota Sioux Nation. For over five years Yellowbird has sponsored and organized pow wows in locations in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Aiming to provide a space for Indigenous voices, stories, and leadership, First Voices programming will engage the public on topics such as social justice, reparations, othering, and the prevalence of intolerance.

Martinez told me that she hopes visitors to this weekend’s First Voices Festival will gain an appreciation for Indigenous culture and peoples. If your most intimate knowledge of Native peoples comes from popular culture such as the Disney movie Pocahontas and risqué Halloween costumes, attending a pow wow can provide valuable insight into the reality of what it is like to be a modern day Native American. Presented by 7 Stages in collaboration with Turtle Island Trading, Zintkala Zi PowWow, and the L5P Business Association, more information can be found about the First Voices Festival on their website

Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.