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Cultural immersion in native life

The Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial features an Inter-Tribal queen competition, allowing women to display their abilities in both traditional and modern arts. (Courtesy of Vanessa Tom)

Although the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial doesn’t receive the fanfare that the annual Gathering of Nations PowWow in Albuquerque, it offers a different look at the Native American culture in a spectacular setting.

Set amidst the backdrop of glowing Red Rock Parks just outside Gallup, the 98th Ceremonial ( is a non-stop tribute to native life that started on Aug. 2 and continues through Aug. 11.

“It’s a really great, almost an immersion of Native American culture,” said ceremonial board member Kyle Tom, who is also the rodeo announcer. “You get a little bit of everything from the various tribes.”

Native Americans from across the country attend the ceremonial to showcase their art, dancing and food, he said.

“Historically, we’ve always had close to 50 tribes that come and perform,” Tom said. “And many other tribal representatives come out and enjoy it. It’s one of those key events where comes and it’s like a family reunion. People look forward to it every year.”

A big part of the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial is the rodeo that is open to both natives and non-natives. (Courtesy of Vanessa Tom)

While it is a time for Native Americans to reconnect with each other, it is also a great time for others to delve deeper into the native culture, he said.

“It’s a great chance to learn where various songs and dances come from,” Tom said. “And how one animal can mean so many different things to many different tribes.”

Tom said. the whole event started around the art markets.

“Painting, silversmiths, inlay work, beadwork, weaving. Local and national artisans will come and enter their pieces and judges will go through and look at each piece and judge it on the quality of their work and the types of craftsmanship,” he said.

The work displayed throughout the week, but it all for sale, as well, Tom said.

“You can take a whole day to walk through it all,” he said. “It takes quite a bit of time to get through it all.”

Thursday is a big day with the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial Queen competitions at the El Morro Theatre. Contestants will start with a talent show showcasing traditional native arts ranging from singing to dancing to demonstrating traditional weaving techniques.

“One queen contestant sang old songs that you don’t hear anymore,” Tom said. “And you can see the way they prepare their attire and hear the stories that have been passed down through the generations in their tribes.”

The contemporary talent show follows and that can involve singing modern songs and even unusual skills, he said. For instance, one year a woman wanted to display her welding ability, although the fire marshal had to step in and disallow it because of the fire hazard.

The rodeo also starts Thursday and continues through the rest of the week and that night is a parade through downtown Gallup.

“We call it our ‘World Famous Night Parade,’ ” Tom said. “It showcases all the dancers from the different tribes. Our parade for the most part, sticks to the old guidelines with motorized vehicles with a few exceptions. We always try to get the Navajo Code Talker Association and they’re getting kind of old so we let them ride in the back of a pickup truck. And Beau the white buffalo will ride in his trailer.”

Free-admission Friday features the pow wow with dances and performances from the attending tribes, as well as an exhibition from the Voladores, high-flying natives from Mexico who soar from the top of a 90-foot pole and launch themselves in a coordinated aerial display.

Saturday’s events are similar, but on the concluding Sunday the rodeo takes a different turn as it features more old-school events like a cow hide race in which the contestant sits atop a hide while being pulled by a horse; a cast-iron skillet that’s also known as the frybread pan-throwing contest, which is open to anybody who wants to pay the entry fee, wild cow riding and buffalo riding.

Sunday also will feature John Payne, the one-armed bandit, whose trick horses and buffalo perform numerous tricks.

“The ceremonial is a great thing to see whether you’re Native American or not,” Tom said. “We have lots of visitors, especially from Europe.”


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