The Ojibwe have a famous legend of how the ceremonial powwow drum came to their people through a Sioux named Tailfeather Woman. This story was written in a letter to Thomas Vennum in 1970 by William Bineshi Baker, Sr., an Ojibwe drum maker from Lac Court Oreilles Reservation in northern Wisconsin. Thomas Vennum states that William Bineshi Baker began to learn his drum traditions on the lap of his father (Vennum 1982: 8).
The Vision of Tailfeather Woman
Here is the story of the beginning of the ceremonial powwow Drum. It was the first time when the white soldiers massacred the Indians when this Sioux woman gave four sons of hers to fight for her people. But she lost her four sons in this massacre and ran away after she knew her people were losing the war. The soldiers were after her but she ran into a lake (the location of which is never mentioned in the “preaching” of the Drum’s story). She went in the water and hid under the lily pads. While there, the Great Spirit came and spoke to her and told her, “There is only one thing for you to do.”
It took four days to tell her. It was windy and the wind flipped the lily pads so she could breathe and look to see if anyone was around. No—the sound is all that she made out, but from it she remembered all the Great Spirit told her. On the fourth day at noon she came out and went to her people to see what was left from the war. (The date of this event is unknown.) The Great Spirit told her what to do: “Tell your people, if there are any left (and he told her there was), you tell your people to make a drum and tell them what I told you.” The Great Spirit taught her also the songs she knew and she told the men folks how to sing the songs. “It will be the only way you are going to stop the soldiers from killing our people.”
So her people did what she said, and when the soldiers who were massacring the Indians heard the sound of the drum, they put down their arms, stood still and stopped the killing, and to this day white people are always wanting to see a powwow.
This powwow drum is called in English “Sioux drum,” in Ojibwa bwaanidewe’igan. It was put here on earth before peace terms were made with the whites. After the whites saw what the Indians were doing and having a good time—the Indians had no time to fight—the white man didn’t fight. After all this took place the whites made peace terms with the Indians. So the Indians kept on the powwow. It’s because the Sioux woman lost her four sons in the war that the Great Spirit came upon her and told her to make the Drum to show that the Indians had power too, which they have but keep in secret (William Bineshi Baker, Sr. as quoted in Vennum 1982: 44-45).