The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque is North America’s largest Native American powwow, drawing thousands of participants and spectators over the fourth weekend in April at Expo New Mexico. Contestants from more than 500 tribes gather to test their skills against their peers in competitions of dance, drumming, and singing.
Gathering of Nations
Visitors can experience the dramatic Grand Entry during which all the dancers competing in the event fill the floor of the Tingley Coliseum at Expo New Mexico. These dancers from across North America are dressed in traditional regalia and circle their way around the inside of the building until the floor is filled. It’s quite an impressive sight, with the best Indigenous dancers from across the continent festooned with beautiful ribbons, feathers, beadwork, and quillwork, and moving onto the floor until it is packed.
Miss Indian World
The dancers are led onto the floor by the outgoing Miss Indian World, a young Native woman who has earned her title after days of challenges, such as the traditional talent competition which is open to spectators Thursday night before the Gathering of Nations. The young women, aged 18 through 25, also compete through personal interviews, public speaking, dance contests, cultural knowledge, essay writing, and ambassadorship qualities.
The crowning of Miss Indian World takes place during the Gathering of Nations. Each contestant is dressed in her tribe’s traditional regalia and is introduced to the crowd before the new Miss Indian World is named.
In 2023, Tori McConnell of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes of Northwestern California won out over 25 other contestants and will serve as a cultural goodwill ambassador. She was also named Miss Congeniality and won the talent competition. After her crowning, she, and the other contestants and first and second runners-up, took part in an honor dance. Then she will spend the next year as an ambassador of Indigenous and First Nations peoples.
All around the edge of the coliseum floor, you’ll see groups of drummers, each seated around a large powwow drum. In 2023, more than 30 drum groups were registered to participate in the Gathering of Nations, including groups from Canada, and from Washington State to North Carolina. They not only compete but provide the beat for the dance competitions.
At the Gathering of Nations, the days and evenings are filled with dance, drum, and singing competitions, plus the Horse & Rider Regalia Parade, which honors the “tradition and tribal nations that make up the Horse Nation.” Dancers are divided into numerous categories, such as fancy/jingle dance, fancy shawl, cloth or buckskin, and grass dance. Tiny tots, juniors, teens, and elders compete in their own categories. Some categories are divided into northern and southern as well.
Indian Traders Market, Stage 49, and More
If you’d like to make some purchases to support Native American artists, shop through two buildings filled with artisans and craftspeople as well as informational booths in the Indian Traders Market. Here you’ll find Native American crafts, jewelry, fine art, quilts, clothing, and perhaps even some parrots whose bright, molted feathers you can purchase to create your own works of art.
Stage 49, outside the coliseum, is where you can enjoy a variety of music performed by Indigenous artists, including traditional and contemporary music, from hip-hop to country. The Miss Indian World contestants also answer their interview questions in front of a crowd at this stage.
You can catch roaming performers around the Expo New Mexico grounds as well, giving you the opportunity to enjoy a range of performances.
There’s food available to sustain everyone through the busy weekend. At lunchtime, lines are long for popular items like frybread and Navajo tacos. You can get a “rez dog” — a hot dog wrapped in frybread, a burger on frybread, and even a frybread pizza. Of course, there are other offerings, like corn on the cob and coffee.
This is a popular event, drawing large numbers of competitors and those who come to socialize, shop, and cheer on the contestants (the local crowd went wild for the Navajo entries in Miss Indian World!). There are several points of entry and parking at Expo New Mexico, but if you’re coming for the morning Grand Entry, come early or be prepared to be part of a long line of cars waiting to get to the parking lots.
Once you’re in, you can wander the grounds, get some frybread, shop in the Traders Market, or grab a seat in the coliseum to enjoy the Grand Entry and competitions.
The Miss Indian World Traditional Talent Competition takes place Thursday evening at the Kiva Auditorium at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Come early for this event, too.
What to Wear
The weather can be changeable at this time of year, so dress comfortably and layer your clothing. Friday morning in 2023 was cold and rainy, and by Saturday it was sunny and warm. You just never know!
The 2024 Gathering of Nations takes place April 25 – 27 at Expo New Mexico.