Posted by RB on March 31, 1998 at 09:40:04: 
I've been told that any powwow songs that are recorded and sold on tapes are OK for other drums to sing. This might be true for intertribals and contest songs but some songs are memorial songs or honor songs named for people. Should one have permission to sing these songs even though they are sold on tapes? One example is one of my favorites WhiteFish Bay Singers Volume 7. On this tape is the James Klein Memorial Song and the Cedar Cloud Honor Song. These are both great songs but I hesitate to sing them without permission. I guess I'm looking for some good advice. 

Posted by Arlie Neskahi on April 01, 1998 at 23:41:31: 
In Reply to: Powwow Songs posted by RB on March 31, 1998 at 09:40:04: 

Dear RB, 

     You have been taught some good points about powwow protocol. It is considered as you say that songs given to, or made for particular persons, families, communities, etc. not be sung without permission. Even if one has permission, singers must not use it inappropriately. 
     For example, many songs in this category may have no words, and if a singing group sings it for an intertribal, they will probably be pulled up short. If a group sings these types of songs without permission, they should expect to be "fined". This is a little different from the non-native idea. 
     Lets say a drum sings a family's song without permission. A member of that family, the person who composed the song, or a singing elder, may publically present the drum a sum of money, or goods, the "fine". Then they will immediately go before the people and publically admonish them for singing that song. This is usually a sound verbal trouncing over a loud PA. Very embarrassing for the singers. The "fine" is paid TO the singers who made the blunder; 

  1. as payment for their mistake, this carries a double whammy, for not only did you mess up, but we have to pay for it!! 
  2. as recompence for what they are about to receive, a stern public scolding and request to not sing this song again. 
     I personally hesitate singing songs released on tape, though for the most part many groups don't mind if you sing them. There are some exceptions however, of individuals who don't like others singing their music. I won't name names here, but once you get into the depth of the powwow singing life you will learn who they are. Usually by the fact that you will hear stories of their "fining" other drum groups. 
     I would suggest a couple of things. First of all, begin to expand your Singing Circle. Try if you can to connect with a singing mentor. This person can become a conduit for songs. I personally pass on many songs that I received permission to sing to other singers who may need them. This is usually a request to me with tobacco. Of course, the same protocol follows as above, I don't give family, or personal honor songs. Only the family, person, or composer has that right. 
     I know this is hard for persons who may live in urban areas, but I have many mentorees who stay in touch after meeting me, over the phone. Other singers may be as considerate. 
     Additionally, if you sing a group's songs, please, if you see them at a powwow, go up to the lead singer and let them know. Establish a nice conversation and spend some time talking about your enjoyment of their music. Be generous yourself, buy his singers some coffee or pop, invite them to your home when they may be traveling through your country, if you have the means, feed them. This might be the beginning of the personal acquiring of many more songs in future years and a possible mentoring relationship. 
     And it is also good manners, to avoid singing any of their current "hits", in their presence. Singing a song of theirs from a year or two powwow seasons ago usually will just be seen as an honor. Singing one of a group's hot songs, usually is considered rude, and sloppy singing protocol. The lead singer will be remembered... 
     It is the lead singer's responsibility to keep track of the nature and purpose of the songs his group maintains in their repertoire. It is up to the lead singer to carry the stories of how, where, and by whom, these songs were acquired. It is the lead singer's responsibility to know the proper and appropriate time to use these songs... 
     Hope this info has been helpful. Maintain our singing traditions, they have served us well. Expand the Singing Circle, and good to see you singing after all these years. 
     Finally, I appreciate your willingness to ask this question here, for there are many non-natives who are not following our musical traditions, and feel themselves exempt from this discipline. By your request you affirm our commitment to learn these Ways, and maintain them. If we as Native People have to follow these teachings, then they should be willing and ready to do as much and more to learn our culture. 

Aho brother,
Arlie Neskahi