As I walked toward the University of New Mexico Arena, otherwise known as The Pit, a faint and distant drumming could be heard, getting louder and more distinct with every step I took. As I weaved through the long rows of cars in the parking lot, I saw to my left and right, in every aisle, young men, old women and children, some barely old enough to walk, putting on something pow wow–related that used to belong to a wild animal. As I got close to the arena, I was shocked to see that the line to buy tickets stretched more than 100 yards and was being monitored by men in yellow event windbreakers who were constantly saying something into walkie-talkies about a three-hour wait to get inside. Welcome to the Gathering of Nations, the world’s largest Native American pow wow, now in its 30th year.
The annual three-day celebration in Albuquerque this year ran from April 25 to 27 and featured more than 3,000 Native dancers and singers, along with hundreds of artisans, traders and vendors. Tens of thousands of people swarmed the city’s hotels and motels in order to watch world-class pow wow dancers and take in a bit of Native American culture.
The highlights of the long weekend included the coronation of the new Miss Indian World, a young Diné woman who was greeted with a deafening cheer from the thousands of her tribesmen in attendance, and the championship rounds of men’s fancy dancing. More than 700 tribes from throughout the U.S., Canada—and even a few from Latin America—were represented in some way, be it in regalia, informational booths or dancing in educational dance troupe. Thus, it was difficult to walk through the crowded arena and not at some point get a bunch of feathers in your face or accidentally step on a lost child, fully dressed in skins, beadwork and feathers.
Menominee northern traditional dancer Michael Fish Jr. takes off his face paint after grand entry on April 26 in Albuquerque’s famous University Arena, more commonly known as The Pit. Fish made the 25-hour journey from northern Wisconsin to attend the Gathering of Nations, which he considers “a unique and very huge pow wow.”
Not long before the afternoon grand entry, a dancer raises a warbonnet as spectators cheered and snapped photographs.
A chicken dancer performs on Saturday night. The Gathering of Nations is so popular among elite pow wow dancers that many of the usual categories are broken down in subcategories—to the delight of dancers—often by region, style or whether it is contemporary or not.
Traditional dancer Thelma “Chickie” Whitewater, Ho-Chunk, dances on Saturday night. She recently moved to Nebraska after living in Albuquerque for many years. “I’m back home now, where the air is fresh and the land is green,” Whitewater said.
A dancer in one of the traditional categories. The Gathering of Nations is one the few events in the Southwest where a warbonnet can be observed in dance competition.
Moments after her coronation, 2013 Miss Indian World Kansas K. Begaye, Diné, is congratulated by her parents. Begaye was a Miss Indian Teen World and is a recording artist who has been nominated for Native American Music Awards. “I started singing at the age of 10, and I have shared my songs with many people,” Begaye said. “I sing because it’s a source of healing for my people.”
Miss Indian World Kansas K. Begaye waves to a roaring crowd. Sixteen young women from various tribes competed for the title of Miss Indian World; it is the most prominent Native pageant in North America.