Skip to main content

The Zotigh Singers Host the AIS Presidential Inaugural Pow Wow

  • Author:
  • Updated:

The Zotigh Singers of Albuquerque, New Mexico served as a host drum at this year’s American Indian Society's Presidential Inaugural Pow Wow on January 19 in Washington, D.C.

At the inaugural pow wow, a gourd dance took place at 1pm, followed by the pow wow grand entry at 6pm in the Grand Ballroom of the Crystal Gateway Marriott, with The Zotigh Singers and The Boyz serving as host drums. Both the gourd dance and pow wow were free to the public.

The Zotigh Singers, led by Ralph Zotigh, are one of the longest established drum groups in the Southwest. Since their inception in 1996, they have served as host drum for major pow wows and Native celebrations throughout Indian country. Their unique sound blends Southern style singing with Southwestern-inspired melody.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"14371","attributes":{"alt":"Ralph Zotigh","class":"media-image media-image-left","height":"540","style":"float: left; width: 300px; height: 400px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"405"}}]]

“When I first came to New Mexico from Oklahoma, more than 50 years ago, there were no pow wows,” said Ralph Zotigh. “It has always been my dream that New Mexico could host pow wows utilizing talent that is homegrown, especially southern drum groups. When pow wows first began in New Mexico, some of the local tribes were resistant to pow wow singing and dancing because of the strong traditions that already existed in this area for thousands of years. But pow wows are continually evolving and spreading to tribes and areas that did not originally pow wow, like here in New Mexico.

Today, the largest pow wow in the world is held right here in Albuquerque!” He added, “Members of my family sing with me, but the majority of our singers that travel with my drum group come from the Navajo, Pueblo and Apache tribes—tribes that are located in New Mexico.”

The elder Zotigh is now a Native icon in the Southwest. In this role he serves as an educator, constantly urging singers who have never sung before, to learn and join the pow wow circle. Many of his original singers have left and joined other drum groups. But that's just fine with Zotigh, who is proud that he played a part in their development as the pow wow circle grows.

The Zotigh Drum group composes its own songs, because at northern pow wows the next drum in drum group order may be requested to sing a jingle dress side-step, chicken dance and double beat crow-hop all in the same dance session.

“When this happens, we are ready with our original compositions,” said Dennis Zotigh, Ralph’s son. “We take pride that our singers have composed more than 60 original songs that we can use to accommodate any dance category or occasion when called upon.”

To date, the Zotigh Singers have produced six CDs for the Indian House, Sweet Grass and Cool Runnings recording labels. From these albums, several individual entries have been nominated as best pow wow song in both the Native American Music Awards and the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards in Canada.

One significant composition that Ralph Zotigh wrote was “Women Veterans Song.” This entry debuted at the second commemoration of the death of veteran Lori Piestewa, in her home town in Tuba City, Arizona. Shortly after the debut, the piece was recognized at the Gathering of Nations when the whole arena was cleared and the drum group moved to the middle of “The Pit”—the University of New Mexico basketball arena—to render it on behalf of all female veterans.

“This song means a lot to me as a woman veteran and I listen to it over and over when I am beading all night or traveling to a pow wow,” said Sarah Baker, a member of the Native American Women Warriors and from the Muscogee Creek Nation and Euchee tribes. The Native American Women Warriors' participation in the Presidential Inaugural festivites received mainstream media coverage.

“The Zotigh Singers are really looking forward to sharing our music with all the people who will be attending the inauguration pow wow,” said an enthusiastic Ralph Zotigh prior to the event. “We have never been to it but understand tribal representatives from all over Indian country will be there. It’s been a while since we have been host drum on the East Coast and we would like to publicly thank the inaugural pow wow chairman, Preston Tonepahhote for inviting us. It will be a great honor to sing in the nation’s capital on such a fitting occasion as we celebrate the inauguration of the president of the United States.”

For a look at the American Indian Society's 2013 Inaugural Pow Wow, click here