Last summer while touring Monument Valley, I met Ron, one of the tour operators. Since I opted to stay the night in The Valley that night (with requires an escorted stay by a Navajo (Diné) as it’s on their land), we were treated to a pow wow after dinner. My, of course, having had to photograph this event I ended up send Ron prints of he and his wife dancing in their full Diné Regalia. Since keeping in touch, he told me about an annual event that bring together many native nations for a huge pow wow. I thought little of it and stowed it away as a future ‘maybe’ thing to do.
Miss Indian World competition
Ring dance, Miss Indian World competition
Miss Indian World competition (This year’s winner 2017)
For some reason, as karma would have it, I received an email that had an advertisement for “the largest pow wow of the year”. I thought … is this the same one that Ron mentioned. Curious forced me to click through the ad. It took me to a website called The Gathering of Nations. After perusing, I found that it was coming up in a couple of months. Almost immediately after leaving the site, I emailed Ron asking him … well you know … yep, same one! So, my quest began. During this quest, I ended up being sponsored as a photographer for a local magazine in New Mexico! With media pass secured, it was time to begin plans around the event.
Ceremonial pray to kick things off.
Growing up in America, all we learned about in history class was how the new settlers from Europe traded and later fought the natives and how the aggressive and warring Indians fought the US Army in various battles. Our history paints “them” as savages. This is what we all mostly grew up believing. Further, Hollywood depicted Indians in similar light which further supported what we learned in school. Sadly, this is the complete opposite in reality. Here we have an ethnic race of proud people having foreigners stealing their land, treating them as second citizen people all b/c the new settlers wanted what they had (their land). Ugh. History aside, what I’ve come to know (now), that the First Nation People have band together in solidarity preaching love, tolerance, respect for once another, a deep commitment to their respective cultural importances to carrying forward to their future generations.
I digress … Fast forward months of waiting … and arriving in Albuquerque for the first time, I quickly got my bearings and found myself readying my gear to shoot the event. I entered the event to a familiar sound. The sound of a Native American flute song. If you’ve never heard this before, the sound is emotionally moving and soothing. Such a powerfully peaceful sound reverberating off the walls of this large hall, oddly transforms you to a spirtual place. More native music ensues. Then, it’s time for what’s called “The Grand Entry” – a large procession of First Nation peoples dancing to the beat of drums. Arrrgh … the DRUMS. The arena was encircled with no less than a dozen different tribes from all over North America. Each tribe had 8 drummers sitting in a circle around their sacred drum pounding the it in near perfect uniscent with all their might while chanting in their own tongue. That alone sent me spiraling to a different place. If this wasn’t enough for the senses, in come streams over 3000 Native Americans from all over the US and Canada from some 300+ different tribal nations – dawning their tribal Regalia. It was an explosion of color, not to mention a sensory overload that was both exhilarating yet spiritual all at once. I didn’t expect this to hit me the way it did.
The Grand Entry of Nations
Just after a Grand Entry, I struck up a conversation with a tribesman sitting at his encircled drum. He said to me, (while glancing at a female next to me) “Would you like to sit, pointing at a seat next to him in the circle), it’s ok for you”. Come to find that this drum circle a sacred place for men only – no women allowed. Noticing a few things within the circle, I asked many questions and got some very interesting perspectives into what this circle entails. I was honored to be invited to his circle as he shared much knowledge with me.
Grand Entry of Nations
Traditional dance competition
New style dance competition
These brief 3 days felt like 7 as it was a party and spectacle for 12 hours straight. I befriended a couple of folks both from the local area and neighboring states who helped clue me into snipets of Native culture & rituals that helped enhance the overall experience. I was told that once I set my belongings down, that it was completely safe as to no worries of it disappearing – it was against he spirit of the event. More over, everyone whom I interacted with in conversation of otherwise were the friendiest most generous I’ve experienced in the US. I felt like family in an odd sort of way – like they were taking care of me. It felt what I’ve experienced in Asian cultures – which I draw strong parallels from and think the two cultures are somehow descendants of one another.
The Grand Entry of Nations, representing over 350 Tribes, 3000 in total on the floor.
Grand Entry of Nations – The elders from select tribes
I left with a few key messages that were both felt and spoken in Respect, tradition, spiritual awareness and forgiveness – all strongly taught to all generations within this proud nation of people. I am humbled once again.