Pow Wow Experience

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe

My laptop grew dusty during the time I roamed through Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I  stayed with friends on the outskirts of Santa Fe. No wifi, no cable, nothing but a dual wide mobile home sitting on an acre of land, surrounded by horses, sheep, and chickens.

It was awesome. And very cold. It snowed one day and a couple of days bore 30 mile winds.

I’m sorry I missed my last Poetry on Wednesday, but I do have one poem that is apropos to this post. It is by MariJo Moore.

Why We Dance

To dance is to pray,

to pray is to heal,

to heal is to give,

to give is to live,

to live is to dance.


The GON Pow Wow took place at the University of New Mexico, in the Pit, a stadium holding thousands of dancers, audience, vendors, and drummers for a full two days and nights.

Opening ceremonies began with the eagle carrier on the stadium floor, joined by hundreds of dancers streaming in from the four directions of the stadium, dancing in a spiral towards the center until every inch of floor space held a dancer.

The strong, steady drumbeats mimicked the heartbeat. The cultural chants and swirling dancers in colorful regalia evoked a mystical atmosphere where I was transported to prayer and gratitude. Unknowingly, the drums took me to my own personal quest for self-identity that increased as the day grew to night.


Over 700 tribes from the USA, Canada, and Latin America gathered. The one thousand dancers ranged from tots to tribal elders, men and women.

Of particular awe were the Code talkers and veterans of WWII, Korea, and each subsequent war, including the Warrior Women. One of whom had an incredible reunion with her husband, as she walked with the color guard onto the stadium floor.


Captains Jukari and Amileah Davis reunited at GON-photo by Davis Couple
Captains Jukari and Amileah Davis reunited at GON-photo by Davis Couple

 U.S. Air Force Captain Jukari Davis (Navajo), stationed in Afghanistan, surprised his wife, U.S. Air Force Captain Amileah Davis (Métis) in front of thousands at the 31st Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, New Mexico last Friday.

Some general rules, when attending a Pow Wow: 

  • Respect the dancers. No snapshots unless you ask first. Thank the person (s) for their time.
  • The dancers wear ‘regalia,’ not costumes. Each piece is symbolic and has meaning. Don’t handle their regalia.
  • Stay away from the dance area, even for your photo shots.
  • Don’t go around saying “How” to native people. (Originally, the greeting was “Hao.”)
  • Respect the ceremonies by standing when asked, or keeping silence. 
Two dancers in regalia, GON 2014
Two dancers in regalia, GON 2014

I asked a young man if he could share the symbolism of his beaded face dress. He smiled and said that the face dress was called beaded eye drops.

“Long ago, the story says that a boy watched grass dancers and spoke of becoming one some day. He waited until he was old enough to begin dancing, but he had an accident before he could begin, which left him in a wheelchair. Everyday, he came to watch the grass dancers, tears falling from his face. Out of respect, the grass dancers strung beads around their eyes, symbolizing the tears of that young boy.” 

Grass dancer, beaded eye drops. GON.
Grass dancer, beaded eye drops. GON.


Drum beats reverberated through my body, evoking feeling from some long ago ancestor, moving my knees and feet in the dipping motion of dancers.

From noon until midnight, for two days, the music, exquisite regalia, dances, and aromas of fry bread, roasted corn and sweet potatoes inundated every part of me.

Several times I was asked, by natives, if I was native, and what tribe. Vendors sometimes give other natives a discount on items. The long answer would be that my DNA test says I’m 51% Native North American, but since my mom was orphaned at a very young age and I don’t know anything of my father’s history, and both are Mexican ethnicity, I could be native. My children are one eighth Blackfoot. But  I answered truthfully, “I don’t know.”

I could tell by the reaction on the askers face that this was not an acceptable answer. My  cousin said, say you’re Yaqui-all Mexican heritage has native indian. She is Diné (Navajo) on her father’s side. That feeling of ‘unknown otherness’ swept through me, briefly, until the drummers began another song. My quest is now to find out more about my heritage (although Ancestry dot com isn’t very helpful to me).

I’ve been to several pow wows, but the sheer immensity of this one was an incredible experience.

I hope to attend the Gallup, New Mexico pow wow in August. Maybe by then I can have a more definitive answer to the question, “Are you native, what tribe?”