Largest powwow draws Indigenous dancers to New Mexico

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Associated Press

Fourteen year-old Mylan Archuleta of Ohkay Owingeh village in northern New Mexico prepares to ride his horse in the horse parade at the 40th anniversary of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, April 28, 2023. Tens of thousands of people gathered in New Mexico on Friday for what organizers bill as the largest powwow in North America. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Tens of thousands of people gathered in New Mexico on Friday for what organizers bill as the largest powwow in North America.

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.

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

During the event, dancers slowly spiral their way, one by one, toward the center of the venue, making for a spectacular display. This marks the 40th year for the gathering, which has grown from humble beginnings in 1983 into a massive celebration with Indigenous people showcasing their cultures through dancing and singing competitions.

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

“It’s a celebration,” the younger Metallic said.

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

And style.

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

Twelve-year-old Violet Sutherland showed off elaborate beadwork and a fancy shawl as she spun around beneath the welcoming sign while her mother took photos. They traveled from Ontario, Canada, so Violet could fulfill a wish made the previous year.

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

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

As spectators and competitors took breaks to get roasted corn, fry bread and lattes, the echoing thunder of drum beats could be heard outside the arena.

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

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

Organizers held virtual gatherings in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions. This is the second in-person gathering since public health regulations were relaxed.