The Pit pulsed Saturday with the beating of drums, the shrill singing and the dancing of hundreds of indigenous tribes from North America, many of whom traveled thousands of miles to celebrate the enduring cultures of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.
The 31st annual Gathering of Nations powwow held this weekend in Albuquerque featured members of around 700 tribes, including those from Mexico and Canada, and was expected to entertain tens of thousands of visitors, according to James Koren-chen, who handled public relations for the Gathering.
Becky Taylor, a member of the Ojibwe tribe that has a reservation in Wisconsin, has been attending the Gathering since its early days. She said it is crucial in welcoming the newest generation into the culture and providing them with an identity, a language, an art form and a community that prevents them from turning to less-productive uses of their time.
“We really need to keep our younger generation strong and teach them about who they are, where they are from and where they are going,” Taylor said. “I see a new generation being strong, being strong with the things they have even though the computer world is out there. We try to teach them to listen and be respectful to their elders, teach them to be respectful of themselves, to fill that gap that has been missing.”
Emcees from the event took time from the dancing displays and drumming competitions to raise the issue about the portrayal of Native Americans in popular culture and elsewhere. They expressed their concern, to large applause, about the mascot of the Washington, D.C., National Football League team, the Redskins, and other teams that use caricatured Native Americans as mascots.
“It you look up Redskin, it’s a derogatory name, like ‘savage,’ ” said Larry Yazzie, who came to Albuquerque from Minnesota, where he’s the artistic director for the Native Pride Dancers. He served as one of several emcees during the event, as well.
The three-day event included more than 3,000 traditional Native American singers and dancers who competed for more than $200,000 in prize money across a number of categories, including dancing, singing and drumming. It also featured dozens of vendors.
Taylor said Native Americans both young and old need events like the Gathering to have a conversation across tribes and cultures. She said that drug and alcohol issues, in addition to widespread poverty on Native American reservations, require the new generation of Native Americans to both commit to their cultures and try and find solutions from outside the reservations.
“(Young people) are listening to their songs. They’re learning about their families … So you find them getting stronger with their culture,” she said. “I see a new generation becoming more educated, because we have to be educated in both worlds to walk that balance.”