Beneath the towering red rocks of Gallup, New Mexico, dancers in rainbow-colored costumes compete in traditional Pow wow dances. Elsewhere, vendors are busy selling everything from jewelry to toys in the many booths scattered throughout the grounds. The smell of fry bread permeates the air, along with roast mutton and green chile, a staple here in New Mexico. In the amphitheatre, sounds of flute music waft by while drums keep the beat for professional native dance troupes, entertaining us for the afternoon. Many types of artwork adorn the walls and display cases of the exhibit hall including paintings, sculpture, silver work, jewelry, basketry, Navajo rugs, sand paintings, and pottery. A giant tortoise made of wood rests atop a pedestal, and a tall metal sculpted Yei Dancer stands guard over her makerís artwork.
Another arena features Navajo Song & Dance, while the Turquoise Classic Thunder Rodeo (PBR) takes center stage in the main arena, followed by the Queen Coronation and an Indian dance performance in the evening. In town, a country western dance is held, honoring the event.
The rainbow of colors, the rich rood smells, the red rocks, and the drumbeat all come together under the hot desert sun, to create the unique atmosphere of the 86th Annual Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial. This is a five-day event, with all the outdoor festivities and dancing occurring over the weekend at Red Rock State Park. The friendliness of everyone in attendance, including the staff, makes this a world-class event.
We grab some roasted mutton, fry bread, and Navajo Tacos, and head back to the Pow wow competition grounds, where a family is conducting a give-away ceremony to honor a relative expected home from the Iraq war next week. Then we are treated to the competition dances, beginning with the Tiny Tots. These little people perform with much gusto, emulating their elders and stirring up the dust with their tapping feet. Mothers carry their babes in arms, too young to dance alone, around the dance circle. Next, the tiny tots are joined by their Golden Years relatives, dancing around the arbor at the center of the dance grounds. Drum groups compete, each performing a song in turn, all the way around the circle, while we watch the dancers. Then it is on to the Ladies Fancy Shawl Dance, their fringe moving in time to the music, while their feet keep the beat. As they leave the dance grounds, the Ladies Jingle Dress dancers perform, followed by the Ladies Northern Traditional, and then the Ladies Southern Traditional dancers compete to two songs, as the temperature soars to 100 degrees.
Next itís time for the menís dance competition to begin, first with the Southern Straight style, then the Southern Fancy Dancers amaze us with their many colorful feathers and quick movements, increasing the energy all around. Then it is on to the Menís Grass Dancers before moving on to the Menís Northern Style dances. On and on it goes, throughout the afternoon and into the evening, or until the rain starts, and then more dancing competitions follow on the next day.
Back in the amphitheatre, the Pottery Dance is performed by the Cellicion Zuni Dancers, and then we watch some sash weavers perform a sash dance. We find out they are giving demonstrations of sash weaving in the exhibit hall, and return there to the air conditioned building to enjoy an informative escape from the heat. We are also treated to a rug weaving demonstration by an award winning Navajo rug weaver.
This does not begin to scratch the surface of the myriad experiences at this event. There are the Navajo women in their velvet skirts and turquoise squash blossom necklaces, gorgeous jewelry for sale, along with prayer feathers, dream catchers, and unique artwork; the dancers costumes that are different for each style of dance, and each a unique creation. This Ceremonial brings dancers, artists, and vendors from many Nations together to dance and celebrate, and this is a lesson in itself, encouraging camaraderie, as we all come together to experience this event. Then there is Red Rock State Park, a beautiful place nestled in-between the giant red rocks that adorn this area. So many sights, sounds, and smells to take in, creating a total sensory overload.
Finally, the sky darkens, and we know the rain is near. We head to the car, not wanting to leave, but knowing we must. Returning home, listening to Pow wow music purchased at the Ceremonial, while the raindrops keep the beat with the drums. Albuquerque is just two hours away, yet it seems like a different world.