Repost of the Day: Gathering of Nations 2016

Gathering of Nations

The Men’s Fancy Feather Dance, Gathering of Nations 2016

Repost of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

July 22nd, 2020

Today, I’m sharing my post from 2016 about North America’s largest powwow. The Gathering of Nations takes place annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico (although this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic). More than 700 tribes and First Nations from all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico attend this powwow to celebrate, compete and carry on the many traditions of Native American dance, dress, drumming and music.

I attended the event wanting to learn more about Native American culture and share the experience with my readers. One of the most important things I learned, related to a powwow, is that dancers appear in the traditional regalia of their tribes or First Nations. Dancers are not in costume. Regalia comes with honor, respect, education and age. Regalia should only be worn if properly earned or bestowed. Also, regalia can identify where a dancer is from through design, motif, pattern or material used. The variety, color and skilled handwork on display throughout is stunning.

I’ve added a handful of new photos and a video below of the Men’s Fancy Feather Dance.

Lastly, if you wish to learn more about Native American peoples and history in recent centuries, I highly recommend reading The Earth Shall Weep by James Wilson.

More tomorrow,


The opening moment actually takes my breath away. The first drumbeat initiates a men’s dance of such color and fervor I can think of nothing to compare it to. A blur of motion blows past me — men spinning, dipping, stepping eloquently to the magnificent beat of an eight-person drum circle. Each one of these dancers is a work of art in his regalia and style of movement, but collectively they pulse like a beating heart, for several minutes, until the explosive drumbeat ceases into silence, the dancers hold their final pose and the crowd erupts in applause.

This is my first powwow. In the first three minutes, I’m speechless and nearly moved to tears.

I find out later that powwows don’t usually begin with a men’s Fancy Feather dance, but this year’s Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico has begun with this special performance in honor of the late Spike Draper, Diné Nation Posthumous Head Man Dancer for the two-day event. What a beginning — what a moment I won’t ever forget.

Fancy Shawl Dance

Fancy Shawl Dance

The Gathering of Nations is North America’s largest powwow, with more than 3,000 dancers from over 700 tribes and First Nations. I’ve arrived here for the two-day event on a personal mission. After writing about culture and life around Southeast Asia for the past four years, it’s time to dive back into the heritage of my own country and learn — or perhaps I should say re-learn — about the culture of the indigenous people and First Nations of North America. It’s clear from being here, and from being a lot older and a little bit wiser about the world, that all of the American history lessons I sat through in school were narrowly-focused and vastly incomplete.

Gathering of Nations 2016

Representing Zia, Ute and Diné nations of Albuquerque, New Mexico

What I experience during the Gathering of Nations is as educational as it is enchanting. Three thousand dancers share the floor during the magnificent Grand Entry — an hour-long procession of all ages and nations, repeated four times in two days. The Grand Entries are followed by hours upon hours of competitive and community dancing, drumming and singing into the night and throughout the following day and night again. Jingle, Fancy Shawl, Buckskin, Grass, Cloth, Straight, Traditional, Gourd, Hand Drum … all new types of dance and drumming to me, and profound in heritage and significance. And beautiful — so completely, exquisitely beautiful that my words are futile in describing the experience of being here.

Gathering of Nations Grand Entry

Saturday’s first Grand Entry, Gathering of Nations 2016

I watch, I listen, I learn. I ask questions. I un-learn. I re-learn. I adjust the words I use, I change the questions I ask. I try. I hope. I am so grateful to be here. I am just one person, but I am one person. One step. One step closer to the truth. Past, future, here, now.

Gathering of Nations 2016

Gathering of Nations 2016

Gathering of Nations 2016

Gathering of Nations 2016

Special thanks to James Korenchen of James Korenchen Public Relations for providing me with an all-access media pass to photograph the Gathering of Nations 2016.

If you’re pictured here and would like a copy of your photo, please get in touch by leaving a comment below. I’d be thrilled to send you your portrait.


  • Stunning! What an honour and privilege to be part of this. 🙂 🙂 How much of history has been rewritten, we’ll probably never know.


  • What a fantastic event. Such pride is exhibited and your photos are spectacular. This is an event we must see! Cheers!


  • Breathtakingly beautiful and powerful and your accompanying words are so moving. Your gratitude, respect and humanity show us all what a special person you are. Thanks for sharing this Kelly 💕


  • The introductory video captures the atmosphere well, this drum beat, that can be heard from afar and that ends up becoming haunting at the end of the day. I appreciate the humility of your approach and the desire to learn, or relearn, this is an example to follow for sure.
    I had the chance to attend the Six Nations powwow near Toronto. This year it is being held in two days this Saturday, July 25th. It will be completely virtual by video upload, that says all the progress that has been made.


    • Thank you, Lookoom. I’m with you on the drum beat — it’s deep and powerful. How was the Six Nations powwow? I would love to attend more of them. I may try to tune in this weekend — thanks for sharing that!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Basically it is a competition with several categories, men-women, ages, traditional or modern outfits. Judges mark all participants in successive rounds, until the final. Between the competitions there are periods when everyone is invited to come and dance on the dance floor … I invoked the need to take photos.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Pingback: Pueblo Peek – Compass & Camera

  • Although I’ve never been to this Gathering of Nations, my husband has — and he brought back a few pictures, but nothing like what you’ve posted! Every one of these would be worthy of framing. I love the color, the imagery, and the painted faces! What a post!


  • So many emotions reading this post and seeing your magnificent photos. Such beautiful, intelligent, proud, deeply caring people whose culture was dehumanized and trashed by invasive arrogance all over the Americas. It’s so good to seem in this context – proud and strong. It also reminds me of attending the full dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Communities from the four First Nations on whose land the olympics would take place were an integral part of the ceremonies including doing the Fancy Feather Dance, but more importantly for me having the leader of each Nation say “I am from ….. Nation and I welcome you. One after the other. It was the first time I felt like I was being truly welcomed to Canada. I burst into tears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Alison. Attending the Gathering of Nations was so unforgettable, moving and inspiring, and yet bittersweet at the same time. Your experience at the Olympic opening ceremonies gives me goosebumps. That is quite a welcome from the first and possibly only true stewards of the land. Canada does far better at recognizing and valuing native culture than the U.S. That was very clear to me while living in Vancouver. There’s still a long, long way to go but experiences like we both have had are vital to awareness and reconnection. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful pictures! Thank you for the recommendation of The Earth Shall Weep by James Wilson, I have to read it!


  • You keep coming up with these “wow” posts. Now this, one, even better than the spectacle of the Cuban carnival.


    • Ah, thanks so much Dave!! Great to hear you enjoyed seeing the Gathering of Nations! I’m re-posting from 8 years of blogging so you’re getting all the travel highlights, like this event and carnaval. But if the pandemic doesn’t improve, I fear I’m going to run out of content! Hopefully that won’t happen. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!


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