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Gathering of Nations live event canceled for second year

Josiah Tsatoke of Norman, Okla., a member of the Kiowa tribe, dances during the Southern Style competition at the 2019 Gathering of Nations powwow in Tingley Coliseum. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The rhythmic drumming and multi-colored regalia of Native American dancers will once again be heard and seen during the Gathering of Nations Powwow, but in the COVID pandemic environment it will be entirely online.

This is the second consecutive year that organizers have had to cancel the live Gathering of Nations – an event that in 2019 drew about 2,800 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, attracted about 91,000 spectators and had an estimated economic impact on Albuquerque of $22 million to $24 million.

“We’re still on hold and can’t have a live powwow until the state opens up and gives us the go-ahead, and it looks like that won’t happen until a year from April,” Gathering of Nations founder Derek Mathews said Monday.

Even if some miraculous turnaround in the pandemic infection rate were to suddenly occur, it would be logistically impossible to put on a live event this year, he noted.

The world’s largest powwow was canceled last March, a little more than a month before it was set to be held, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency. At the time, Mathews likened the sudden halting of the Gathering of Nations to stopping a freight train.

“It takes some time,” he said, “and then to get it going again also takes some time.”

Chayton Hoskins, 14, of Lee Anders, Texas, waits to perform in the Team Boys Traditional category during the 2019 Gathering of Nations. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Aside from the logistics, there is another practical reason to avoid a live festival this year, Mathews said. “Native American tribes have been devastated by the virus, so we wouldn’t want to invite people to anything that was not completely safe.”

Organizing and putting on the 2019 Gathering of Nations involved the efforts of more than 200 people and more than 400 vendors.

This year’s online cultural festival will be April 23 and 24, Mathews said.

Dance performances and competitions will be held throughout the United States and Canada and livestreamed. Likewise, performance judges and announcers “will also be scattered around the country,” he said.

“We already have about 100 dancers registered and expect to have from 300 to 500 by the time it starts in April.”

Prerecorded dancing, parades and music performed on Stage 49 during past Gathering of Nations will also be featured.

Hundreds of dancers share the performance floor inside Tingley Coliseum during Grand Entry of the 2018 Gathering of Nations powwow. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The online production will also include an online Indian Traders Market, interviews with people who were integral in organizing and putting on the powwow, and dancers who have regularly participated.

“We will close each night with a live Zoom dance party,” Mathews said.

The current Miss Indian World, Cheyenne Kippenberger, a member of the Seminole Tribe in Florida, will have a special farewell ceremony on the second day of the powwow. She won the title in 2019 for what was supposed to be a one-year reign that turned into two.

The title will remain vacant until the next live competition.

While this online version of the Gathering of Nations is a first, Mathews said he has had some preparation. Since 2006, he has produced a Gathering of Nations music station for the iHeartRadio streaming radio platform. And this past July through November, he produced videos of Gathering of Nations dancing and other events going back to 1987, which can be seen on YouTube and the Gathering of Nations Facebook page.

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