"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Gathering of Nations: People at Their Best

My friend Robyn, who lives in Albuquerque, and I attended the Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in North America.  There were reportedly over 3,000 dancers and musicians present.

The Grand Entrance

A powwow is a gathering of Native or First Nation people from one or multiple tribes to meet, dance, drum, sing, trade and celebrate.  This Gathering of Nations was attended by as many as 500 tribes from Florida to Alaska, including Canada. It is held annually in April in "The Pit," the athletic arena at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

 The young women's Fancy Shawl dance competition

The arena is huge and was filled to capacity with people of all ages, mostly in family groups, and mostly Native Americans. The great majority of them were involved in the festivities in some way. The bleachers were filled with families in all stages of dress for the dancing, with pieces of their regalia in suitcases, on hangers and a few in very special wooden boxes.  Some were putting on make-up of various sorts. Their actions reminded me a lot of the dance recitals I used to participate in as a child, or of a beauty pageant or a horse show, except for one major difference: the mood. 

Although this is a competition for many of the participants, I didn't sense any anxiety or nervousness. I didn't see young people with the jitters, trying to shake off their stage fright or nerves. I saw no parents yelling impatiently at their kids. I did sense good natured and contained excitement, but mostly I sensed and saw pride, joy, camaraderie, respect, appreciation, strength, confidence, and  bonds among friends and the broad extended family.  I'd say the mood reminded me of a huge family Thanksgiving: the kind of excitement that doesn't have to do with presents, but with company and tradition. 

Within the immense crowd there was honoring of individuals, such as the elder gentleman who led in the Grand Entrance, and the "head" man, woman, boy and girl dancers, last year's Miss Indian World and all the contestants for this year's honor.

The MC's made many comments about the youth of the community, commending them, encouraging them, appreciating their skills and the importance of their place. There were quite a few adolescents involved in the dancing and drumming.  Around the edges of the arena there were young men "strutting" their stuff in full costume, but with ball caps on their heads. I wish I had gotten a picture of that.

All in all, my overriding impression was of a massive number of people at their very best. There was no misbehavior, no rough-housing, no carousing, like there might be at a ballgame or maybe a rodeo. There were active roles for elders and children, and a place for young people to feel beautiful and proud. I felt safe, welcomed, but not particularly attended to. It was not about the tourists - it was about the community.

I thought I'd just close with a few more images of the people who surely must have been sharing their best as individuals in the company of their friends and family. 


  1. Wonderful photos! I have never been to one of these gatherings, it looks like a really unique event.

    1. It truly is Lisa, and they're held all over the country. Keep your eyes open for them - I think you'd like it. Especially the ones held outdoors. (Inside the amplification of drums, singing and MCs can get a little intense.)

  2. Gorgeous photos! I haven't been to a pow wow since I was a kid.

    1. Thanks! We were sitting pretty far from the action so all I could really get we're crowded scenes, without being intrusive.

  3. My husband and I are looking to full-time RVing within the next year and I just discovered your blog.
    We lived in NM for 5 years and loved the Gathering of Nations. I never thought of it as "not being about the tourist" but you're right and there are plenty of food and craft vendors. The attire worn by each of the participants is well worth seeing especially when most make there own. Creativity at its finest! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Welcome to our blog! What an exciting time for you. Good luck with your plans and preparations for full timing and I hope our blog can be of some help.


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