Alibi V.22 No.17 • April 25-May 1, 2013 

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Powwow Power

Gathering reps Native culture

2012 Miss Indian World talent competition
2012 Miss Indian World talent competition
Derek Mathews

Celebrate 30 years of Indian tacos, competitive dancing and paying tribute to tradition this year at Albuquerque’s own Gathering of Nations. The Gathering is North America’s most prominent powwow, and it will host tens of thousands of guests and representatives from more than 700 Native and Aboriginal tribes throughout the United States, Canada and all over to honor Indigenous cultures and traditions through dance, music, food and the crowning of the next Miss Indian World

After cheating occurred at the National Finals Powwow, Gathering of Nations (GON) founder Derek Mathews decided to start his own powwow focused on fairness. The first Gathering was held at the former University of Albuquerque in 1983 and welcomed 400 dancers and about 1,000 spectators. GON moved to the University of New Mexico’s “The Pit” arena in 1986, and it's been held there ever since. “The Gathering of Nations strives to be a positive cultural experience that is exhilarating for everyone,” said Mathews.

The powwow is centered on dance competitions representing various styles and sacred traditions from different regions and tribes, and it's accompanied by drum groups that also compete. Dance competitions are broken down by style, gender and age categories. Dancers’ regalia consists of mostly handmade items that signify special events, people or traditions. First-place dancers will take home $2,000. Guests should make sure not to touch any regalia or refer to them as “costumes” and to ask before taking pictures. Everybody is invited to dance during the intertribal dances and when invited by the emcee.

The grand entry is the most essential event to witness as thousands of colorful dancers enter the stadium simultaneously and collectively dance in a spiral that moves clockwise while percussion resounds throughout the stadium. One year, they released an eagle to soar around and bless the arena and all in attendance.

Another major event is the competition and crowning of Miss Indian World. Contestants between the ages of 19 and 25 demonstrate prowess in areas like tribal knowledge, dancing ability and personality assessment. The winner spends the year traveling both across the U.S. and internationally to share and educate others about her cultural and tribal traditions. Miss Indian World also serves as a role model to young and old. “The Miss Indian World title is one of the most prestigious honors among Native American and indigenous people,” said Mathews. “The winner provides a cultural link between tribes and helps bring together native and indigenous people throughout the world.” The current Miss Indian World is 22-year-old Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.

The event also features fine Native and Aboriginal arts and crafts in the Indian Traders Market. Sample some of the delicious Native and Southwestern cuisine—like fry bread and roasted corn—and check out various musical and performing artists in the arena and on Stage 49.

Celebrating its anniversary by releasing a new book capturing 30 years of photos and written memories, the Gathering is also launching the Gathering of Nations Internet Radio. Hosted through iHeartRadio, the GON radio channel offers Native American music of all genres, including powwow, rock and roll and spoken word, which will be available online at and over the airwaves in most major radio markets.

The Gathering runs from April 25 through 27 and the grand entry happens at noon on Friday, April 26. Miss Indian World will be crowned on Saturday, April 27. Tickets are $17 per day, $34 for a two-day pass or $50 for a two-day pass with VIP seating. Tickets can only be purchased with cash at the door. The event is family-friendly, but strollers aren't allowed. ATMs will be situated inside the Pit, but they tend to run out of cash early. Southwest Airlines, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the Hard Rock Casino and Resort Hotel are all offering special rates and deals for visitors. For more information, visit

Gathering of Nations

Friday, April 26 - Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to midnight

University of New Mexico Arena (The Pit)
1111 University SE

Tickets: Two-day festival passes - $34, one-day tickets - $17, Miss Indian World admission - $14, 836-2810
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