The use of whistles at powwows throughout Indian country is becoming more and more controversial. Whistles, once owned by a few and hardly ever used, are now seen in abundance and are used, according to some, too frequently.

Cheyenne River Sioux elder, Sidney Keith, explained the difference between whistles for powwows and those for ceremonies. He said powwow whistles are made of wood or plastic and Ceremonial whistles are made of eagle bone and are to be used in the ceremony itself.

The whistle man at a powwow, he's not just anybody. He has to be selected. A spiritual leader or medicine man has to choose him. At powwow, there are only three or four whistle men.

Sidney Keith, Cheyenne River Sioux Elder

 He said that it is a great honor to be a whistle man and that the whistle is very sacred. He explained that whistle men have to blow the whistle four times during a song and that they have to know a song very well to blow it at the right time. He said, after blowing a whistle, whistle men then honor the drum, or singers with a give-away.

"I've been asked by an elder that we not allow any at all," Norman Roach, a well-known fancy-dancer from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, [and] newly elected vice-president of the Black Hills Powwow Board, said. "The elder said the purpose of the whistle has always been to extend a song and for the purpose of honoring elder and those who couldn't dance."

"This is considered a very sacred act. It used to be followed by a large give-away, as it was explained to me. Nowadays, people blow the whistle and give-away $5. The give-away is supposed to be big," he said.

"A long time ago," Terry Fiddler, a well-known traditional dancer said, "they hardly ever used the whistles. Then they honored the whistles by what they gave away." Mr. Fiddler said people should look to the elders to inform them about the proper use of whistles.

[Adapted from an article in Indian Country Today by Pamela Stillman]

The Salish-Pend d'Oreille Elders Advisory Committee have made it clear time and time again that whistling of drums in not part of our culture; and that, consequently, whistling of drums is not allowed at our Celebration in respect to our cultural ways-your hosts.