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Feb 20th
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Home Things to Do Festivals Gathering Of Nations Powwow Celebrates Native American Culture, Dance And Song

Native American Cenebration

Gathering Of Nations Powwow Celebrates Native American Culture, Dance And Song

26th Annual Event In Albuquerque, New Mexico Draws Thousands Of Fans, Tribal Members

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Fans of the American West, do yourself a favor: travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico and experience one of North America's greatest celebrations of life and Native American culture, the annual Gathering of Nations Powwow.

Each April, more than 3,000 dancers, singers and drum groups from over 500 Canadian and U.S. Indian tribes gathered to compete for top honors and awards in what organizers say is the largest powwow in North America.  The 2009 gathering will be held April 23-25. This year, more than $175,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded.

The Gathering of Nations Powwow actually takes place in two of Albuquerque's largest venues. The Miss Indian World Pageant is usualy held at the Albuquerque Convention Center, while the powwow is held at the University of New Mexico Sports Arena, fondly called "The Pit."

There are many hotels and motels in Albuquerque and neighboring cities, but don't want too long to make your reservations. The gathering is well attended and rooms go quickly.

Without a doubt, the Gathering of Nations Powwow is a showcase of indigenous / Native American traditional fancy dress dance outfits, some of them passed down from generation to generation. Aside from songs and dancing, the powwow also features the Miss Indian World Pageant, and the Indian Traders Market, where more than 800 Native American artists, crafters and traders will display their wares to see and to purchase.

The annual powwow has grown to become a huge economic benefit to the City of Albuquerque. A recent survey by the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce estimated that more than $35 million flows into the city as a result of the three-day event.

"We usually have between 75,000 to 85,000 persons attending the Gathering of Nations Powwow," Derek Matthews, founder and director, told OldWestNewWest.com History and Travel Magazine. Matthews, who is a former dean of students at UNM, and a number of Native American university students, started the powwow in 1983 as a way to bring together those Native Americans who wanted to share their cultural heritage of dance and song.

It started that year with around 250 dancers. Today, dancers number in the thousands.

"It just keeps getting bigger and bigger," he said.

Matthews and family members still direct the powwow, but many volunteers come forward each year to actually ensure the event's success.

Miss Indian world Pageant

One of the highlights of the program is the selection of a Miss Indian World who serves as a goodwill representative for the organization at many Native American and non-Indian events and programs.

The new 2008-2009 Miss Indian World is Nicole Alek'aq Colbert, a 22-year-old Yup'ik Eskimo from Napakiak, Alaska. Ms. Colbert also won the Best Traditional Presentation and Best Essay awards, and was named Miss Congeniality. In 2007, Ms. Colbert won the Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics Pageant.

The first runner up in the 2008 competition was Emerald Dahozy, a Navajo, and second runner up was Janene Yazzie, also a Navajo.

Being chosen Miss Indian World isn't easy. Contestants are selected based up their personality, knowledge of tribal traditions, public speaking and writing skills and their dancing abilities. Being on hand at the pageant is in itself a wonderful peek into Native American culture.

There is much to take in at the Gathering of Nations, and if your time is limited you may have to make some tough choices.

Not to be missed, however, is the Grand Entry of Dancers on Friday and Saturday nights. Attendees are asked to stand and remove their head covers in respect of the traditions and history of the tribes. As the singing begins, a live, hooded bald eagle is brought into the area by its tribal handler, along with the eagle staff, followed by tribal leaders and elders, Miss Indian World, and then the dancers in this year's powwow.

As the handler carries the bald eagle around the arena floor, he stops from time to time, removes the hood and the eagle spreads his wings to the delight of attendees and participants alike. Finally, the dancers - men, women and children - enter the arena from all sides, dancing to the singing and drumbeats - the steady one-two, one-two, one-two pounding beat - until all 3,000 are in the arena. The dancers then continue circling the floor.

It takes several minutes for all the dancers to get inside, but for those seated high in the bleachers, the scene of thousands of Native Americans in their bright, colorful ceremonial regalia circling clockwise on the floor is a sight never to be forgotten. When all the dancers are in, the audience breaks out in applause and cheers.

The displays are colorful, and tell many stories. Men's outfits may include long bustles of eagle or hawk feathers, breastplates of bone, headbands and headdresses of beads, fur and feathers, beaded vests, arm shields, decorated staffs, and even red and blue wool blankets. Women's outfits include deerskin and fabric dresses, ribbons, beaded shawls, beaded work, decorative metal and feathers.

If You're Going, Here Are Some Dos And Don'ts

For those of you who will be experiencing the gathering for the first time, there are some dos and don'ts to observe, according to powwow organizers. For example, during the Grand Entry of Dancers, it is tradition that when the eagle staff is brought in, everyone stands and hats are removed.

Finger pointing, especially with the index finger, is a no-no, considered to be impolite. If you need to indicate a direction, or person, do so by pointing with a nod of the head or movement of your eyes. Also, don't stand in front of dancers or singers who are preparing to perform, or bother them before they go on.

If you take pictures, don't use your camera's flash, and always ask for permission before taking a picture of an individual outside of the dance. Finally, never touch any of the regalia of the dancers or singers. Some of the outfits are quite expensive, or have heirloom status, being passed down from generations.

Bottom line, Gathering of Nations Powwow is a chance for all Old West enthusiasts to experience some of the rich culture and history of the Native American tribal nations. It's definitely part of today's New West.

For more a detailed schedule of events and other information visit the organization's Web site at

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