Largest powwow draws native dancers to New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – Tens of thousands of people gathered in New Mexico on Friday for what organizers say is North America’s biggest powwow.

The annual Gathering of Nations kicked off with a colorful procession of Native American and Indigenous dancers from around the world moving to the beat of traditional drums as they filled an arena at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.

“We’re ready to rock the house here,” the announcer proclaimed, after introducing drum groups including from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

During the event, the dancers slowly spiral, one by one, towards the center of the room, creating a spectacular spectacle. This marks the 40th year of the gathering, which has grown from humble beginnings in 1983 to a massive celebration with indigenous people showcasing their cultures through dance and song contests.

Dale Metallic has been dancing for about 30 years, since he was a teenager, but this was the first year he managed to persuade his father, Sibugug, to join him in competition. They traveled from the Mi’gmaq Nation in Eastern Canada.

“It’s a party,” said the young Metallic.

“It’s in our blood,” added his father. “It’s a question of language, culture, family.”

And stylish.

Competitors wear feathered bustles, buckskin robes, fancy shawls, and beaded head and hair pieces. Many of the dancers’ elaborate outfits are detailed with hand-sewn designs.

Violet Sutherland, 12, showed off elaborate beads and a fancy shawl as she spun under the welcome sign while her mum took pictures. They traveled from Ontario, Canada so that Violet could fulfill a wish made the previous year.

“I’ve always wanted to go see everyone dance,” Violet said, nodding at the colorful Aztec dancers performing nearby.

Violet, who is Ojibwe and Cree and the youngest of three siblings, practices every day, carrying on a tradition like her parents and grandparents before her.

As spectators and contestants took breaks to get grilled corn, fry bread and lattes, the echoing thunder of drumbeats could be heard outside the arena.

In addition to the dancing and singing competitions, more than two dozen contestants from the United States and Canada are also vying for the title of Miss Indian World. The winner will be crowned on the final night of the powwow and will spend the following year serving as a cultural ambassador while traveling to events and other powwows.

Several hundred Native American tribes from the United States and First Nations from Canada are represented at this gathering, which has become Albuquerque’s second largest annual festival and contributes more than $20 million to the local economy each year.

Organizers held virtual gatherings in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. This is the second in-person gathering since the relaxation of public health rules.

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