Gathering of Nations returns in-person after 3 years
Throughout last weekend, Expo New Mexico was home to powwow dancers, drum groups, Native artists and Native bands and singers as the Gathering of Nations Powwow returned to an in-person event after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be fully virtual in 2020 and 2021.
While the event was in-person, it was also available on online streaming through powwows.com. The livestreams can still be watched through the GON website or through YouTube at powwows.com.
Starting at 9 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, powwow performances and competitions occurred throughout the day inside Tingley Coliseum.
Many Native traditional and contemporary artists performed at Stage 49, located outside of Tingley Coliseum, throughout Friday and Saturday. Some of these artists were the Levi Platero Band, One Way Sky, Warpath, and Doc Native.
Jacob Shije, 26, from Santa Clara Pueblo, performed alongside the Levi Platero Band over the weekend. He describes his music as blues rock.
It was his first time performing at GON in five years, he said. Before this year, he performed at Stage 49 when the event was held at the Pit, and he attended it many times before either with his school or with his grandparents.
He said, “It was fun to come back. It was fun to be at a different venue also.
“I remember playing when it was at the Pit and now that it’s at the state fairgrounds, it was a lot of fun and I think people had a good time and we had fun playing for sure,” he said.
One of his favorite moments over the weekend was getting to meet people he met through social media or online.
“Seeing people that I know or that I’ve met through social media or seen through social media and meeting them in person or getting to talk to them,” he said.
Another part he enjoyed was being able to connect with Indigenous/Native creatives and seeing the support and community.
“Also seeing, I guess, the support we all have for each other as Native people and that respect we have for each other, I think that’s one of the good things about Gathering,” Shije said.
“Coming together as a community, as Indigenous people, to have this event and showcase our talent and showcase our dances.”
He plans to return as a performer at Stage 49 in future years.
“As a performer, I want to sign up whenever they have signups for Stage 49 to perform music for everybody who attends Gathering,” Shije said.
While performances were happening, the Traders Market’ was also held in a nearby building for people looking to buy Native-made jewelry and art.
‘A good event’
Robert Yellowhorse Jr., originally from Shiprock, traveled to Albuquerque from South Carolina to sell his jewelry with his family at the market.
This year is his first year selling at Gathering of Nations and he said he had been waiting a couple years to be able to sell at the event.
“This is our first year, so we’ve been waiting a couple years,” Yellowhorse said. “We’re very anxious and we’re very excited to be here this weekend.”
As a first time Traders Market seller, he said his sales were doing well and he enjoyed talking to the people who stopped to look at his jewelry.
“A lot of positive comments, I’ve just been handing out my card and making new stuff,” he said. “Went home, made some new stuff and made some more stuff here.”
He has been silversmithing for the past three years with a little beadwork. He said his sisters do beadwork as well. He plans to return for future Gathering of Nations to continue to sell with his family.
“This is a good event, we really enjoyed it and I believe we’ll be back,” Yellowhorse said.
While the jewelry and performances are an important part in the event, the Miss Indian World pageant also took place at Expo New Mexico over the weekend.
‘We are strong’
According to the Gathering of Nations website, the pageant is the largest and most prestigious cultural title for young Native/Indigenous women. The pageant was open to Native women ages 18 to 25 with verified tribal affiliation.
This year 23 contestants competed for the title, including two Diné.
The contestants participated in traditional presentations, traditional talents and public speaking over the weekend which was open to the public.
The scores were decided by a panel of judges and the new Miss Indian World was announced on Saturday night after the powwow grand entry.
Tashina Red Hawk, 18, from the Sicangu Lakota of Rosebud, South Dakota, was crowned the new Miss Indian World 2022-23. Along with the title, she won awards for best essay and best personal interview.
Former Miss Indian World 2019-21, Cheyenne Kippenberger, from the Seminole tribe of Florida, gave an emotional farewell speech after holding her title for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Miss Indian World is confident and strong and real and honest with everybody who looks up to her,” Kippenberger said in her speech. “It was so important to me to show what it is to be a modern Native woman in this world today and I wanted to show on social media that it’s OK to be you.”
She also spoke about her experience with her mental health, and it became an important part in her reign.
“That was what I wanted was to be honest and real and show people, even as Miss Indian World, you don’t have it together all the time,” she said. “You’re still a person, you’re still figuring things out and that’s OK.”
She spoke to the crowd of Native people and said they have their life to prove that they are meant to be here.
“Being who we are should never be taken for granted,” Kippenberger said. “Creator, the breath maker, God, Grandfather, gave us this life, every single one of us. Gave us this life to prove that we are strong, we are unstoppable, that we were meant to be here and that we will always be here.”
She encouraged the crowd to be kind to one another and to be proud of their heritage.
“This pandemic was tough, and our people have suffered loss, we suffered having to be away from each other, but we need to rise above these things and be kind to each other,” she said.
“I encourage you to think about what it is to be a good community member, what it is to serve your people, what it is to power and uplift your people,” she said.
“You all have that inside you, so I ask you be kind, love each other, uplift one another, and always walk proudly my relatives,” she said. “Walk proudly and unapologetically Indigenous.”