The Gathering of Nations, lauded “the World’s Biggest Pow Wow,” has been coming under fire recently. A recent post on Facebook asking the simple question, “Do you have a problem with the Gathering of Nations, and why?” ignited a discussion with responses all over the spectrum; from “I love to visit with old friends, I like to meet other cultures” to “I don’t go because of the high prices, or the way they treat the dancers.”
The Gathering of Nations Pow Wow has received its share of criticism over the years. Some Native people have called for a boycott of the event due to high prices, no compensation for Stage 49 performers or other issues, but each year the arena is packed with singers, dancers and Indian folks from all across the continent. They come to celebrate what has become the Native equivalent to Disneyland or Disney World for one weekend in April—and a one of a kind experience.
“Just another pow wow with Indians paying to see Indians,” said Regina Lamar Whitewolf on Facebook. “My time for GON has come to a close.”
Much of the criticism centers on the fact that the lead organizer and owners of the event (Derek Matthews and the Matthews family) are perceived as being non-Native. There are also complaints that the prices are too high and that GON organizers are keeping all the money to themselves.
According to Dr. Lita Matthews wife of Derek Matthews, many claims are unwarranted.
"People have no idea of the level of work and professionalism required for a production such as the Gathering of Nations," she said to ICMN in an email. "In addition, few really know of the good and positive work the Gathering of Nations is and has been doing for decades. The comments by the few are unwarranted and fact-less claims. How easy it is to hurl insults and false info from the keys of a phone or computer."
“I just think if you charge ($17-20) pow wow entrance fees, the performing artists—dancers and singers –should get their share. Stage 49 should offer artist fees,” said Cayuga actor Gary Farmer on Facebook.
“The prices are high. I wish we could lower them down,” said Alejandro who lives in Northern California. “It took me a year to save up to get here. It’s part of my culture. I come because it’s what I want to do. I think some come here because they’re honored to be Native Americans. They’re here because it boils in their blood and they’re part of the whole picture. They’re here because of the grandmothers and the grandfathers who taught them well.”
“The prices are exorbitant,” wrote Faye Long on her timeline. “You can't dance, packed like sardines. The machine is not native friendly. Not caring like they should of families, kids and elders. Too big, becomes assembly line ‘show.’ I don't recommend it to anyone who asks.”
Vsioux Cody from the Navajo Nation said, “When I first came here I didn’t have kids—it was for the 49er. Now I have three kids and this time I came just to see what it would be like. I’ve mostly been around Navajos, Hopi and Pueblo of Zuni. I haven’t really been around any other cultures.”
Tonya Reese drove to Albuquerque from Salt Lake City to GON. She is originally from Shonto, Arizona on the Navajo reservation. “Even though the prices are high what brings me here are all the nations come together, and all the good drum groups come here. I’m mainly here for the drum groups.
“Seeing those drums just makes you feel blessed. Everyone has their own beliefs and when they come to the arena I believe everyone gets blessed individually. Especially with the drum, you can feel it touch your heart,” added Reese.
Adrian Wall from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico said, “This is definitely a place to be, to see old friends that I haven’t run into for a long time. It’s a cool place to be. Actually it is expensive. It’s the way the pow wow world works. You have to have these big pow wows – mega pow wows. I’m here to play some music (at Stage 49), Inna State playing in about an hour. I have mixed feelings about it because they don’t pay us anything, but it is good exposure.”