When I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1991—thirty years ago—I was told about local events not to miss: the Hot Air Balloon Festival in October and the Gathering of Nations at the end of April. I would agree whole-heartedly.
“The Gathering of Nations is the largest powwow in the United States and North America. It is held annually on the fourth weekend in April, on the Powwow Grounds at Expo NM, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over 565 tribes from around the United States and 220 from Canada travel to Albuquerque to participate.”
Here we are at the end of April, so the Gathering of Nations came up, and I flashed back to the last time I was there. I thought it was a couple of years ago, but you know how time passes—it was 2012! We met friends from Denver there and had a glorious time, as always.
I knew they had to postpone the powwow last year because of COVID-19, but I hadn’t kept up with what they were doing this year. In fact, I just assumed they postponed again it—NOT! They hosted a virtual event over this last weekend, so you can go to the link below and enjoy the results. https://www.gatheringofnations.com/
“The Gathering of Nations began “unofficially” in 1983 at the University of Albuquerque, in ABQ, NM. In 1984, the event took on the name Gathering of Nations Powwow. . . In 2017, the Gathering of Nations Powwow returns to the New Mexico State Fair Grounds, known as Expo NM, to be housed on the newly defined Powwow Grounds which includes Tingley Coliseum.” https://www.gatheringofnations.com/history/
When I went last in 2012, the Gathering of Nations was still at the Pit, the University of New Mexico Basketball Arena. Being inside added to the overwhelming feeling for me. I loved hearing the chiming of the jingle dresses and the aroma of the sweet grass and sage.
When the dancers entered for the Grand Entry for the evening event, they came down all the aisles onto the floor filling it up. The colorful costumes overwhelmed my senses—feathers, slick braids, buckskin, and headdresses abounded!
When I first went in the early 90s, they encouraged all attendees to come down on the floor for the Friendship dance, so I did. What an experience that was—surrounded by such beauty and sounds.
Anytime I go, I always enjoyed walking around, shopping at all the vendors with the dancers right next to me, so I could see their costumes up close and personal. I could buy anything Native American from pottery to dried sweet grass braids and dried sage bundles to art work. I also looked forward to the Native American food, like mutton stew or Indian Tacos—delicious! A total sensory experience!
Many times I attended, I focused on taking pictures. I would grab a seat as close as possible to the floor and shot one picture after the other. Usually I focused on one dancer and followed him or her around the floor. I didn’t want to move because I didn’t want to miss any of the competitions!
WHAT IS A POWWOW?
“A powwow is a celebration of American Indian culture in which people from diverse indigenous nations gather for the purpose of dancing, singing, and honouring the traditions of their ancestors.”
The dancing is a competition with each dance style having a different colorful costume. For the Native people, it is a great social event.
The dancers dance to rhythmic music created by huge powwow drums and ten to fifteen singers singing in their native language, and usually there are several drum groups in attendees with assigned times. One drum plays at a time, and people crowd around to record them!
They divided the competition up into various styles:
- Men’s Grass
- “Once, a young man, lame in one foot, longed ever so much to dance. He took that longing out onto the prairie, praying for guidance as he limped up a small hill. On top of the hill, it came to him—he should develop his own style of dance. As he pondered this revelation, he looked down over the prairie with its swaying and swooping grasses. This, he realized, could be his dance.”
- Men’s Northern Traditional
- “Lavish bustles of long feathers, usually from an eagle or another raptor, burst from the dancer’s waist. In fancy dances, similar, often brightly colored bustles are carried at the shoulders as well. This is a time for the men to dance in the way of their fathers and grandfathers, and some of these outfit pieces are passed down through the generations. Some men’s regalia, in this and other dances, may include a red eagle feather, denoting a veteran’s injury in battle.”
- Men’s Southern Straight
- “Men usually wear cotton or buckskin pants, a shirt, a breastplate of bones (or lighter-weight plastic ‘bones’) that stops at the waist or the knees, and a comb-like headdress (roach) of porcupine-guard hair and deer-tail hair.”
- Women’s Fancy Shawl
- “Beautifully embroidered or decorated long-fringed shawls complement elaborately beaded capes, moccasins and leggings. The colorful outfits match the spirited twirling and prancing of this exuberant dance.”
- Men’s Fancy Feather
- “The youthful ages of the dancers and brilliantly colored outfits—with double bustles behind and sometimes small bustles on the arms—are hallmarks of this energetic dance. Outfits are color-coordinated, and the dancers are extremely coordinated, spinning through what is undoubtedly the most athletic of powwow dances. A friendly competition may develop between the singers and the dancers because stopping simultaneously with the ending beat can mean winning or losing points. The singers perform ‘trick songs,’ with unexpected final beats.”
- Kiowa Gourd Dance
- “This was originally danced by an organization of respected men, initially by warriors, then military servicemen, and now those who have done exceptional things in their lives. Kiowa men wear red and blue blankets commemorating the Kiowas at war; the red commemorates war against the Spanish and the blue commemorates war against the U.S. Cavalry. This dance is not a part of a competition and is performed separately from the other dances.”
- Women’s Jingle
- “According to the Ojibway, an old man, on what his family believed to be his deathbed, dreamed of his daughter and three friends dancing in a style of dress he’d never seen before—cloth covered with small metal cones. Spirits explained how to make the metal cones to be sewn to the cloth. Later, after a miraculous recovery from his illness, he instructed his daughter and her friends to make the special dresses, and dance was born. These dresses traditionally are decorated with rolled metal cones made from snuff-can lids.”
- Women’s Northern Traditional
- “This stately dance involves a slow-moving or no moving bouncing step, rhythmically dipping and swaying to the beat of the drum. The dresses of buckskin, wool or other material are heavily decorated with beading, quillwork, elk teeth, bone or antler, or shells. The colors for this dance tend to be more subdued than in other outfits.”
- Women’s Southern Cloth/Buckskin
- “This dance style is danced by women of the Southern Plains Tribes. The Southern Buckskin/Cloth style of dance is slowly rhythmic and elegant as the women move gracefully about the dance arena, dipping and swaying to the beat of the drum. The buckskin dress is decorated with beadwork and sometimes shells or silverwork. The cloth dresses may also have designs printed on the hem of the dress. The remainder of the outfit includes matching headbands or crowns, hair ties, purses, moccasins, chokers, earrings and shawls.”
Gathering of Nations Powwow Souvenir Program Book 2021, page 16
The competitions honor all ages with groups from Juniors to Golden Age/Elders. They raise up future dancers by having youngsters dance in full costume, and these young ones captured my heart. Then they honor the elders by having a competitio for them.
ANOTHER GREAT FEATURE
Each year, they crown Miss Indian World at this event, with contestants coming from all over the Native world. Each contestant wears a costume from her tribe. Again, the unique and colorful costumes and beautiful women are a breathtaking!
So, for 2022, mark your calendar for April 29 & 30, and come and enjoy one of Albuquerque’s most beautiful traditions.
Have you ever gone to a powwow? If so, where? Did you enjoy it? (Scroll down a little farther to make comments!)
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