It was 11 years ago when I sat in the Norman, Oklahoma living room of Clarence and Nell Yarholar, talking with them and Nell’s brother, Gathering of Nations arena director Cricket Shields. They talked about Gathering of Nations Powwow and how much they enjoyed it, encouraging me to check it out. I took them up on their advice, loaded up my truck and made the journey on I-40 West to Albuquerque and “the Pit.” I have been hooked on Gathering of Nations ever since, seeing the beauty that Native America has to offer, underneath one roof.
Now that I have a family of my own, Gathering of Nations has become our spring destination. The fact that my wife, Maya, grew up in the Southwest, makes it even more special for us and our children. Maya is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe. Our three children—Chado, Kateri and Matthias—enjoy attending and dancing in powwows, gourd dances and Kiowa ceremonials. But for Maya, attending “Gathering” has the special feel of a homecoming celebration.
When we leave Anadarko, Okla. and get on I-40, we see many tribal tags heading west, many of them passing us at speeds to make the crew of the Enterprise jealous. After several hours, the Sandia Mountains appear, and we can all feel the electricity in the air. We know it’s time to hear the best in Southern and Northern singing!
In addition to the best in powwow singing and dancing, we also look forward to the many vendors who are there, and seeing the Native hip-hop and metal bands featured on Stage 49. And the food, you may ask? From kettle corn to buffalo burgers, be prepared to bust face!
This year will be our daughter Kateri’s last year of eligibility for Tiny Tots, and we want to see her wear her pink-beaded buckskin and do her best. We’re hoping for her twin brother, Matthias, to get his bustle on and join her. But if not, he will probably gourd dance with his big brother, Chado.
When Gathering’s over, we like to stay an extra day to enjoy ourselves in the area. Two years ago, the University of New Mexico’s Native students held an outdoor powwow on the Sunday following Gathering, right in the middle of their campus. Other places we enjoy include the Flea Market; Albuquerque Aquarium; the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center; Park N the Park Car Show in neighboring Rio Rancho, featuring classic cars and low riders; green chili cheeseburgers from Blake’s Lotaburger; and Sunday brunch at Garduno’s. Where else can you get posole and enchiladas with your scrambled eggs?
Our Monday morning departure after Gathering is usually a mad dash, where we make last minute trips to Indian Jewelers Supply, grocery stores that sell Bueno brand Chili, and finding anybody selling Pueblo bread. Once we’re loaded down with enough posole ingredients for an entire year, then it’s time to head back to the place known as “Dodge,” Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview many of those associated with Gathering of Nations. These people include Cricket, who helps to make sure the dance arena is respected and runs smoothly. Derek Matthews has shared with me the history of Gathering, from its early origins to its 25th anniversary. Larry Cozad of Cozad Singers told me about his father, Leonard Cozad, Sr. and those relatives who inspired his father’s early music education.
My neighbor from down the road—Sammy Tone-Kei White—told me one morning in my home about what could be considered the key to Gathering’s success.
“Each year, it grew because, again, we ran it the way we would like to see a powwow run,” said Tone-Kei. “Nothing earth-shattering—we did the simple things in a good way and treated everyone good and fair. It’s been a contest powwow since the first time around, so it’s still going, and going strong.”
My family and I plan to be there at Gathering this year, with my notebook in hand and recorder in my pocket. There’s a chance that your story could be added to ours.