San Diego Intertribal Singers:

There is no substitute for practice! However, 'crib' notes for songs sometimes can be helpful. Especially those songs we are refreshing or learning or sharing with the group. We haven't done this 'academic study' for some years. Upon reflection and discussion I feel there is no substitute for group practice. However, there is value in exploring as many avenues for song reinforcement as possible. Your comments and suggestions are valuable. At the next break, share your point of view or experience or best of all that song you heard that is sticking in your head and you feel you just must sing it!

Every song is unique and has its own feel, but most songs do follow the same format, much like a church hymn. Here is one study of the Southern intertribal song, separated into its characteristic parts -- lead, second, chorus, honor beats, chorus, ending.


The lead is the first part of a song. It is sung by the lead singer to introduce the song.


The second is a repeat of the lead that is sung right after the lead by the rest of the drum.


The chorus is the part of the song that carries the main theme. All members of the drum sing it.

Honor Beats

The honor beats are three accented beats that occur in between the choruses. It is said by some that these beats represent cannonades or gunshots, and many dancers crouch lower and keep their eyes upward in respect for them.

This format of lead, second, chorus, honor beats, and repeated chorus makes one verse, or "push". The average song is sung with about four or five pushes, and occasionally, during a Grand Entry or when a drum gets an itch, a song can last ten or twelve pushes. The first push is always sung at a medium dynamic level and gets louder with succeeding pushes. At the end of a softer push, the Head Singer will pick up the tempo and volume to begin his lead. The rest of the drum will continue to sing at this louder section until the honor beats, when the song is brought down. When the Head Singer desires to end the song, he will motion with his hand to the rest of the drum that the song is ending, and at the end of the last chorus he accents the beat leading into the final three, five, or seven beats.

There are other ways to end a song, but this is the most common. Other options include trick stops, where the drum may stop at a very unnatural place in order to try to trick the dancers into overstepping after the song has ended, or the drum may simply fade away.


Flag song: lead lines

Just as the United States has its own National Anthem, almost every tribe has its own Flag Song, which is a song dedicated to the flags that are brought in during Grand Entry. The Flag Song is sung every time the flags are brought in, and every person in the arena must stand and be silent to give the flag its proper respect.

Song Samples

Click here to start then "back" and click on each link below to hear those you choose.

Ponca Flag Song

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 Omaha Flag song:

Hey ya ' yoo he 'y yah

Hey ya yoy hey yoh heyOur Umonhon

The Omaha Flag song was composed by Parish Saunsoci in the year 1912. It is a deeply moving song and one that has endured through five wars. To put it in the words of Wilbur Solomon, "Whenever I hear our Omaha Flag song it makes me feel inside, a real good way." Below are some words in the Umonhon Flag Song:

Land =Monzhon

Brother/Friend = Kage

Flag = Haska

Gave to us = Wathagii

Listen to this recording.
(MP3 Format)

 Kiowa flag song:

 Ya ha ' eyah yahe 'y yo

Yaha eyah yah hey yo

Kiowa Flag Song (.wav) ...........Kiowa

 Additionally, there are very few people in Native American culture who are as highly regarded as our Tribal warriors and military veterans. Going back hundreds of years, songs have been sung of their actions, and this tradition continues today. In this century, Veteran's Songs have been written for WW I and WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, and Desert Storm. Several tribes have their own Veteran's Songs. When a Veteran's song is sung, all those who can, must stand and remove their hats in respect for those who served their country.

Kiowa Desert Storm Veteran's Song (Lenonard Cozad Sr., composer.)

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 It is customary, at the end of a Southern pow wow, to close the dance with Veterans and a quitting song. This is a slower song, respectful and not danced. All should rise when a quitting song is sung, and not talk or try to leave. This is a traditional custom from long ago that needs be respected.

Southern Quitting Song

Ponca closing song, one of several.

 Heluska no gin bay oh hey

 She no shin ga wa ho he gay wicha oh gom bay, oh hey

Wakon da do gom bay oh hey, oh shin bay o hey


(I 'm shaky on the notes and also my memory of this song, so correct it for me and let me re-align it, at practice with you all.) Rest assured there will be many more to follow but till then you may wish to surf and review these sites that have songs available on the web, keep singing!

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