Best Of The West 2012: The Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial
Plus 12 more powwows around the nation.
Photography: Daryl Custer
12 More Powwows
Haskell Indian Nations University Spring Commencement Powwow
Thunder booms like a cannon through a darkening popcorn cloud in the August afternoon at Red Rock State Park in Gallup, New Mexico. The moment couldn’t be more perfect. An old Lakota man is telling his story of how a “thunder spirit” and a Mohawk girl of ancient times fell in love, and the weather has complied as if on cosmic cue.
The significance isn’t lost on the crowd gathered in the amphitheater for an afternoon of storytelling. A Navajo man explains to his young daughter, “The Great Spirit is helping this old grandfather tell his story.” And why not? After all, it is the 90th Annual Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial celebration, and magic is in the air.
Tribes from all over America have been coming here since 1921 for what is one of the biggest and best powwows in the land. From Wednesday through Sunday, locals and visitors enjoy parades, queen competitions, ceremonial dances, storytelling, food and drink, arts and crafts displays, and rodeos that include something never seen at traditional rodeos: bucking bison.
Visitors line up to get tickets to the powwow dances that will start at dark against the backdrop of Pyramid Rock. Come evening, the arena will be lit with symbolic roundhouse fires and the dancing will begin: Miwok men from Northern California will do a welcome dance to bless the ground, while Miwok women will perform their Acorn Basket Dance to thank Mother Earth for the nuts that sustained their people when they were being starved out by white men during the 1849 Gold Rush. Many more tribes will perform many more dances.
While the sun shines brightly for the colorful Saturday morning parade, the clouds open up like a trapdoor and rain pours down in sheets in the afternoon. One visitor jokes that perhaps the Hopis shouldn’t have done their rain dance the night before. But rain doesn’t put a damper on Comfort Suites manager Ken Riege’s annual barbecue. Last year, guests of honor included several Navajo World War II Code Talkers, who showed up proudly wearing their Marine uniforms.
Thomas Begay, a Gallup resident who served with the 5th Marines and went through “38 days of hell” on Iwo Jima, says that when he wanted to take his wife to Europe in the 1950s he was refused a passport because “they told me I wasn’t an American citizen.” Which is why events like the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial are important — not only for bonding among tribes, but to preserve the customs and cultures that our nation once tried to eradicate.
It is encouraging to see so many Native kids showing up with their folks. They dress in regalia, dance, and take part in the parades. And they listen intently to the storytellers, who pass down history, myth, and the life of the tribe.
The 2012 Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial will be held August 8 – 12 in Gallup, New Mexico. For more information, visit www.theceremonial.com. or call 505.721.1000.