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Gathering at the Gathering of Nations Powwow: Sharing the Heritage

I walked through the gate at the University of New Mexico Arena and into a swirl of noise and crowds, color and seeming confusion. I had just entered the Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in North America, with over 3000 dancers and singers from more than 500 tribes. It is an experience that has no ready counterpart; by turns educational outreach, reunion of family and friends, affirmation of cultural heritage and identity, shopping opportunity, and dance competition.
Every year, at the last full weekend in April, the world’s largest gathering of native American and indigenous people takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Part reunion, part competition, and part celebration of culture and tradition, over 500 tribes and First Nations from the US, Canada, and throughout the world come together.

For 2015, the Gathering of Nations will be held April 23rd through 25th at the UNM Arena "The Pit" in Albuquerque.


Live music in Stage 49, an outdoor stage with native American music performed in all genres. Sit down on the bleachers and listen to musical styles ranging from hiphop to blues. We listened to the rockin’ beat of Injunuity combining flute with guitars and drums. Indigiefemme used guitars and drums to create a driving beat with a message about our beautiful spirits. With a full line up of 36 bands, there was always music, either happening, or about to begin.

Indian Traders Market

Buy animal pelts, pottery, jewelry, and hand-made flutes. Native American groups and social organizations do outreach. You can buy an issue of a First Nation newspaper, learn about the activities of Hawk Quest, and watch Armando Pena, an award-winning watercolorist. Leather crafters display their wares. It’s aisle after aisle of the world of native Americans for native Americans, into which we are invited.


Fry bread and Indian Tacos. Yes, you can buy a huge smoked turkey leg (in fact it’s quite popular), grab a burrito (quite tasty), but my personal favorite is the Indian Taco. Mainly because of the Indian fry bread. There’s all kinds of other food delights as well from Albuquerque’s restaurants.

Miss Indian World

Twenty-five native American women, representing their tribes and traditions, compete for the title in the areas of tribal knowledge, dancing ability, and personality. The winner becomes the “good will ambassador” for the year, traveling around the world.

Inside the Arena

The Gathering of Nations is full two-day event running from Friday morning to very early hours of Sunday.As a result, there is much wandering in and out of the Arena. People go out for food, to chat and stroll,even watch the entertainment on the outdoor stage at the far end of the line of food vendors. This is an informal gathering, that just happens to take place in a more formal venue.

The first thing a visitor should do is to buy a program. It lists the competitions and times (which should used as an approximation since there is slippage in the schedule as the day goes by). It will also describes some of the different dances. You'll read that there are dance contests for all ages from Elder Dancers (70 years of age and older) down to Junior and Teen categories, even a Tiny Tot dance competition. There are musical performances (flutes, guitar, violin and more) and the Miss Indian World contest.

Although some people stake out seats taping blankets and cloths on the benches, others seem to come and go which means seats are always opening up.


This is perhaps the most spectacular part of the powwow, and not to be missed. The Grand Entry is held twice a day. Schedule your visit to experience over 3,000 dancers streaming into the arena to the sounds of hundreds of drums beating simultaneously. There is truly nothing like it - with the arena slowing filling up with dancers resplendent in their colorful, ornate regalis and the beating drums stirring up the soul. You can watch it from the seats and observe the building of up the crowd, or you can head down to ground level and experience it.

In addition to the Grand Entry, there are competitions held throughout the day. The Women’s Jingle Dress is pure color highlighted by the sounds of hundreds of jingling bells. The competition for traditional male dancers is another unique and powerful experience. Most people wander in and out of the arena during the day, catching some of the competitions and performances.

"We dance to show the world what it is to be an Indian. We give thanks with our drumming," said the mistress of ceremonies.

This is a Native American event

This is one of Albuquerque’s most exciting events. So, mark it on your calendar and make plans to attend. It's held the last full weekend of April.

It is crucial to remember that first and foremost this is a truly native American event which is open to the public.

The regalia (please do not call them costumes) and not only the source of much color but also much pride. They are a visible expression of culture. Some are handed down from one generation to another.

Learn about the heart and experience of people who are generous enough to share their culture, and learn more about the Gathering of Nations

If you want to go, buy your tickets in advance at Gathering of Nations They will be available at the Will Call office. If you go last minute, be prepared to stand in a very, very long line.

Read more about Albuquerque and New Mexico at Albuquerque Travel Examiner

2009 updated 2015