The Gathering of Nations in New Mexico: North America’s Largest Native American Powwow

The annual Gathering of Nations Powwow, now entering its 37th year, is the largest Native American powwow in North America. Designed to celebrate, share, entertain and educate the public about the continent’s first cultures, traditions and history, this signature event takes place the fourth week in April on the Powwow Grounds at the Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Attendees get the chance to see more than 3,000 representatives of 750 tribes from across the continent come together and compete for prizes in traditional Native American dancing, singing, drumming and other special competitions.

The powwow has long been a part of Native culture, serving as a vital social gathering — a way for Native people to connect with one another and their history, while also bonding with non-Native people via the power, beauty and pageantry of the event. If you can only attend a single powwow among the many that compose the nation’s powwow circuit (they take place in all 50 states and in all the Canadian provinces), The Gathering of Nations Powwow would be the one.

A Pageant, Foods and Arts and Crafts

Typically, the Gathering of Nations Powwow incorporates performances of contemporary Native American music, a Miss Indian World cultural pageant, an Indian Traders’ Market with over 400 vendors selling Native American and Indigenous arts and crafts, and a Native Food Court serving native foods ranging from southwestern style cuisine to Native American fare. This combination of features shapes an indescribable sensory and emotional experience that stays with attendees.

A Premier Global Stage for Native American and Indigenous Performing Artists

At this festive event, hundreds of dancers clad in bold attire, including headdresses and jewelry — the distinctive traditional dress of their communities — move to the rhythms of their traditional music. Imagine an arena brimming with brilliant color and intricate craftsmanship, eye-catching dance and riveting percussion and songs in Native languages. What emerges is a stunningly powerful expression of cultural traditions that had been historically suppressed in many communities. The gathering can serve as a source of healing and pride for both Native American participants and viewers, whatever tribe they’re from.

Given the size and degree of representation, this event brings cultural traditions to life in a way that no other powwow in the country does, providing a comprehensive view of native American artforms. The Gathering of Nations Powwow is not only an opportunity for younger generations to learn from their elders but also a must-see for anyone interested in gaining insight into both past and present cultural traditions of Native American tribes.

Sandia Mountains.
Sandia Mountains in New Mexico.

Two Cornerstones of the Gathering of Nations

Nicknamed the ‘Mecca of Indian Country,’ the Gathering of Nations Powwow features three signature events among its numerous performance competitions: the Grand Entry, the Horse & Rider Parade and the Miss Indian World Pageant.

The Grand Entry

The Grand Entry, which launches the powwow’s proceedings and takes place a second time during each day of the event, is one of its most memorable happenings. A procession of dancers from tribes throughout the United States and Canada flows into the arena, spiraling towards its center in a clockwise direction, moving to the tempo of thunderous drums and songs, and filling the space until there is little room left. The sound produced by the thousands of rattles and bells these dancers wear make the spectacle even more mesmerizing. Announcements made at the start of past Gathering of Nations Powwows have described the energy that permeates the arena during the Grand Entry as something that’s both unforgettable and beneficial.

Horse & Rider Parade

This competition parade of native horses and riders dressed in full regalia honors the significance of horses to various Native American tribes. Historically, the parade has taken place both inside and outside the arena.

Miss Indian World Pageant

The Miss Indian World Pageant, whose mission is to exemplify the pride and dignity of the culture and traditions of Native women across the United States and Canada, represents the largest and most prestigious cultural pageant for young Native American and Indigenous women. After participating in talent, public speaking and dance presentations, a pageant winner is selected on the basis of her personality, knowledge of tribal traditions and dancing skills. The winner goes on to serve as a cultural goodwill ambassador for Native American and Indigenous peoples until a new Miss Indian World is crowned at the next Gathering of Nations Powwow.

Gathering of Nations Powwow 2021

In 2021, the event, which typically attracts an audience of over 75,000 people (both Native and Non-Native Americans) will be a free, live-streamed virtual experience taking place on April 23rd and 24th. Online viewers will also have the opportunity to browse and purchase items in the online Traders’ Market, as well as donate to various nonprofits providing critical assistance to Native Americans. The 2021 event will not include the Food Court.