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It’s like a big, colorful, energetic reunion with thousands of family members, said Aldrick Jackson about the opening day of the 2022 Gathering of Nations Powwow, which began Friday at Tingley Coliseum and on the grounds surrounding the venue.
A member of the Navajo Nation from Dilkon, Arizona, Jackson will be competing in the Southern Straight dance category. He has been coming to the Gathering of Nations pretty regularly for about 30 years and said he missed the annual powwow, which was on hiatus for the past two years because of the COVID pandemic.
“It was a long wait,” he said. “I always look forward to it and I came even though my job didn’t approve my request for personal time off. I left anyway and just said, ‘See you guys Monday.’ ”
An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 dancers filled the floor of the cavernous coliseum during the Grand Entry, keeping beat with the loud, booming drums as feathers flared, beads bounced and gourds rattled. The spectator seating surrounding the dance floor was nearly filled to capacity.
“It was breathtaking. I had chills on my arms the whole time and it felt like time just stopped,” said Mindy Morgan, an Alaskan native of the Tlingit tribe who was visiting from San Diego, where she now lives.
This was the first time she had had an opportunity to see the Gathering of Nations and the trip “was so worth it,” she said. “I can’t wait to come back tomorrow.”
Representatives of more than 560 Native American tribes from around the United States and more than 200 Indigenous tribes from Canada were expected to be among those attending the powwow, which kicked off Thursday night with the Miss Indian World competition. Said to be the largest powwow in the world, the Gathering of Nations will continue until midnight Saturday.
It features Native American singing and dancing competitions, a horse and rider regalia parade, contemporary live music and entertainment on Stage 49, enticing food and a traders’ market offering fine art, crafts, clothing, jewelry and more.
“It’s exciting to be back,” said Gathering of Nations founder and director Derek Mathews. “Everybody’s feeling good, the energy is good. It looks like a full house. We’re going to have a good weekend.”
Attending her first Gathering of Nations, Anja Littlecreek, a native of Florida now living in Seattle, will be competing in the Fancy Shawl dance competition. Part Muscogee Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw, Littlecreek said she was “having a blast” and was a bit “overwhelmed” by the spectacle. “Normally, the powwows I’ve been to at home aren’t this big.”
Katherine Howell, from Tecumseh, Oklahoma, was attending her third Gathering of Nations and was competing in the Junior Women’s Buckskin dance category. Part Comanche, Creek, Seminole and Potawatomi, Howell said what is different this year is she now has a child.
“It’s nice to get my daughter out to see what we’re about as Indian people, what we represent, and what we hold in our culture and history,” she said.
“This was like the highlight of my year, every year when I was a younger,” said Emily Littlehoop, of Alliance, Nebraska, who regularly competed as a dancer. On Friday, Littlehoop, who is part Ogallala, Lakota and Navajo, said she was content to sit in the stands and watch the action below.
“It’s still absolutely amazing to see all the dancers and the regalia, and listen to the music, and there really isn’t anything like this anywhere else,” she said.
Charlene Maes of Santa Fe said she has been attending the Gathering of Nations for years.
“I used to come with a bunch of people, but now I come by myself so I can stay as long as I want,” she said. “The colors, the dancers, the culture, it’s all just so beautiful. It feeds my soul.”
The parking lot at Expo New Mexico and the ticket office for the powwow open Saturday at 9 a.m., and the gates to the powwow grounds open at 10 a.m. The grand entry of dancers inside Tingley Coliseum begins at noon.