Derek Mathews, founder of the Gathering of Nations, likened the cancellation of the world’s largest powwow to stopping a freight train.
“To slow down and stop a freight train, it takes some time, and then to get it going again also takes some time.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency after the state Health Department confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases in New Mexico.
In the interest of public safety, Lujan Grisham ordered the cancellation or postponement of all events in state-owned facilities, including what would have been the 37th annual Gathering of Nations, scheduled for April 23-25 at Expo New Mexico in Albuquerque.
In addition, the governor urged people to stay away from public gatherings, sports events, neighborhood meetings and church gatherings.
While Mathews said he understands the need for the declaration of a public health emergency, he wished he had more time to notify people. Many were coming from out of state and other countries, and had already made travel plans, purchased advance tickets and booked hotel rooms.
“We were working with a 15-year-old terminally ill kid from Oneida, Wisconsin, whose wish was to come to the Gathering of Nations to dance,” Mathews said.
The Gathering of Nations is one of the biggest events in New Mexico. Last year, the three-day powwow drew more than 80,000 people to Albuquerque and had a $24 million economic impact on the city.
Mathews said he’s hoping the event can be rescheduled soon.
“But the biggest unanswered question is when will the virus let up. As long as the virus is going, we’re postponed indefinitely,” he said.
Jim Garcia, vice president of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, a Gathering of Nations sponsor, did not take issue with the emergency declaration, but had many of the same concerns as Mathews. Another concern, he said, was the effect of the emergency on the chamber’s 1,000 member businesses.
The Gathering of Nations is not alone. All events at Expo New Mexico have been canceled at least through the end of March. These include the Monster Jam, Rio Grande Arts and Crafts Festival, the World Series of Team Roping, ABQ Rubber Stamp Show, Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Festival, Central New Mexico STEM Research Challenge, MasterWorks of New Mexico, New Mexico Renaissance Celtic Festival, New Mexico Photographic Art Show, and Treasures of the Earth Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Expo. The flea markets have also been closed through the end of the month.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center issued a statement saying that due to the COVID-19 emergency, it was possible that some of its events “will be postponed or canceled, or our hours of operation may change.” No events were named and visitors were directed to the center’s website at IndianPueblo.org.
The Good Shepherd Center canceled the annual Brother Mathias Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner scheduled for Saturday. People who pre-purchased tickets can get a refund by calling 243-2527 ext. 303.
The Albuquerque Little Theatre is postponing all performances of “Beauty and the Beast,” scheduled for March 13, 14 and 15. Those who already have tickets can call the box office Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at 505-242-4750 ext. 2.
New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón announced Wednesday that training sessions for the 2020 Audit Rule Roadshow have been canceled.
The Governor’s Special Hunt Auction and Banquet scheduled for March 14 has been postponed. A press release from New Mexico Game and Fish said ticket holders will be notified when a new date has been set. People who purchased tickets or a table and cannot attend on another date can request a refund with the Santa Fe Community Foundation at 505-988-9715.
The U.S. Army also announced it was canceling this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March on March 15 at White Sands Missile Range. Just a day earlier, organizers announced that a record-breaking 10,000 had registered to march this year.
Messages were left with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to see if services or events were going to be canceled or postponed. The messages were not answered.
Pastor Steve Smotherman of the Legacy Church urged people to ignore the governor’s advice to stay away from church services.
“When the world is at its darkest is when the Church has shined the brightest,” he said in a statement. “So it is alarming to hear that the Governor now urges people to stay away from Church.” He went on to say that Legacy will be having services as usual.
A letter from Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Congregation Albert indicated that no events, Shabbat services, Torah study or religious school classes have yet been canceled, and congregants will be sent an email only if there is a cancellation.
The temple was also looking at distance education for its school classes and will live stream all services on the Congregation Albert Facebook page for those who prefer to avoid gatherings.
“We are balancing our response to maintain everyone’s safety, and not play into the fear and paranoia spreading through the community,” Rosenfeld said. “We encourage everyone to take proper precautions, but not to live your life based on fear.”