Dictionary.com to stop saying pow wows where Native Americans practice “magic”

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The concept of the “reservation” still baffles me to this day.


Went to a powwow and it was like bathing in the fallout of diaspora.

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Interesting way to put it. How was it like “bathing in the fallout of diaspora”?

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While they are pretty magical in a sense, there is no magic taking place…


Can I keep saying it’s where they practice magic, as long as I keep saying Catholic mass is where they practice magic? or Faith healers at whatever protestant church are practicing magic?

I always understood a pow wow as being a conference or meeting. With the exception of being on stage at a casino, when has anyone seen a Indian Magician:question:


I’m sure the rules have changed since he was quoted. I always understood it to reference a piece of land where Native law trumped federal law. Almost but not quite it’s own Nation where everyone in it was also granted US citizenship. Then again I’m certain my understanding is flawed and when he was quoted it was probably closer to a prison.

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How is this a good thing?

Pow wow is an english word. In use since the early 17th century. Now some other culture is coming in and demanding that we change the way we think about certain words? This reeks of colonialism. It is not even a shoshone word, except that it is a loan word from English.

Am I missing something or is this an Algonquian word, which was loaned into English and had a certain meaning for 400 years, and along the way became a general “Indian” word. Now the new owners want to wipe out 400 years of history.

I get that the Native Americans want it to describe what they feel it means today, and the addition of “(among North American Indians)” does make it more about them, but in the end this is an English word, not a Native American word

If I was in charge I would keep the new change but then put the old version back in as number 5 with a historical. note before it.

If you ever desire to visit a US third world country, go to a US Indian Reservation, bring a hanky for your tears.


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.

Magic has numerous definitions, and magic tricks certainly connote one of them, that is: illusionism. But the word magic is also used as a synonym for sorcery. I think that describing mythical storytelling as involving sorcery is apposite. Humans are symbolic organisms, and sorcery is directly involved with how people encode and transmit meaning and culture. The main reason why some indigenous people avoid the term is as a result of oppression by masses of white christians who have a long history of denouncing indigenous practices they don’t understand as being “diabolic”. Singing and dancing their stories in ritual style is literally enchantment, in the best sense of the term. It is only the cultural baggage of some tourists which prevents it from being recognized as such.

Now I would like to know what the Native Americans feel should be the correct definition. There have been a lot of misappropriations and misunderstandings over the centuries.

The title, and comment is click bait. “Dictionary.com is saying”… “sometimes the right thing happens”. Huh? Dictionary.com is based on dictionaries that are in the public domain, which means pre-1920’s, and often are from the 19th century. They want the dictionary to be a modern dictionary that reflects modern usage. But it’s an enormous task. It would be better for those who want more current definitions to submit quotes of modern usage and improve the dictionary rather than to “slam” it. Was it really necessary to turn this into a racist issue?

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Because the the definition did not reflect the history or usage of the term in English.

I was hitherto unaware that people believed that Native Americans practiced magic at powwows and used the term to mean specifically that. Do you have an example of usage to back up that definition?


Is the way other cultures are described in pre-1920s usage ever separate from racial issues?

You could probably tie this to colonialism if you need to. But if you think the Native Americans are coming in and changing our words by asking to have a word for their events be accompanied by an accurate description of them, and this is an example of colonialism on their part, you could probably spend a bit more time at dictionary.com getting to know our own language.

Edit: Just to be entirely clear on the difference between our language and understanding changing, an example: it’s easy to find old dictionaries that define coelacanths as fossil fish. Not any more, and not because the meaning changed, but because we learned they were never really extinct. So it should be with learning we were wrong about other cultures.


People who saw themselves as closer to their tribal roots uncomfy with those who they thought were further removed.

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The concept of the “reservation” is really straightforward. “Hi! We’re stealing your land. We want to pretend that we’re not the savages in this deal, so we’ll give you some other land that we don’t want in return, and you can accept it in return for our generous offer not to kill you all. Yet.”


As a Canadian Native American (Cayuga) who grew up on one of the richer reservations (we sold out early and often so we got somewhat better deals then many others) I can tell you that in Canada a reservation is land set aside by the crown for Natives of whatever tribe(s) they made a treaty with.

In the early days tribes or family groups could sell this land, but the new fangled Canadian government in its infinite wisdom saw the natives being exploited so declared we could lease the land but not sell it. Even so, reservations became smaller over time as development encroached on native territory and new treaties never got around to compensating native groups for the loss of their land. At the same time, as the land became more tamed for settlers, natives became less welcome outside the reservations unless they were sufficiently anglicized.

Then came the Indian Act, where it became compulsory for natives to go to residential school where they systematically destroyed our culture in hopes of integrating us into society with the hope of ultimately destroying the want/need for reservations as obviously when we are taught christian compassion we would want to throw away our pride and history and live in cities like civilized people. That didn’t quite work out the way they hoped.

Now reservations are pits of despair, rife with organized crime and corruption. Federal money meant to help reserves doesn’t always get to where is is allocated, thus things like water purification plants and sewers don’t get built (and such utilities can not be connected to local municipalities because of that would require cooperation and dancing through various jurisdictions). Any changes on a reserve need to be first run through the band council and then approved by both federal and provincial governments, so not much ever gets done. The law is convoluted with the band council enforcing some and the RCMP others.

Natives are land rich, but possession poor. If you live and work on a reserve you do not need to pay income tax, and other minor tax benefits make non native locals resentful.

If, like my family, you manage to escape the reserve (and escape is the right word as there is much social pressure to stay), you can not sell the land you “own” to help you start out. So many natives end up homeless in large cities. There are social programs to help natives who want to go to school or start a business, but the hoops you have to jump through and the privacy you give up make pow wows look easy, and the money available to you is determined by how much is left in the band budget.

To sum up. Reservations are where inconvenient people who were here before everyone else are put and fed barely enough scraps to keep quiet and make everyone else feel less guilty for taking their land, culture, and identity. Compared to American reservations, we got a better deal, but not by much.


Ah, thanks. Doesn’t sound like a pleasant nor a cleansing bath.

I know the history sucks, but I wanted to believe that somehow/someway things have gotten better. If nothing more that all the Indigenous people have become wealthy running casino’s or selling duty free cigarettes and that the biggest problems were spoiled rich kids wearing head dresses to music festivals and professional sports teams using racial slurs as team names.