Last Sunday, after the 30th annual Gathering of Nations had concluded at The Pit, a smaller and more intimate powwow with nearly twice as much history was held on UNM’s Johnson Field.
UNM Kiva Club held its 58th annual Nizhoni Days Honoring Our Alumni Pow-Wow, which punctuated Nizhoni Days, a weeklong celebration of American-Indian culture held at UNM. Alexandra Rosetta, powwow coordinator for Kiva Club, said that — aside from proximity — the Nizhoni Days powwow is unrelated to the Gathering of Nations.
“We get a lot of people saying, ‘You guys are the oldest powwow, older than Gathering of Nations. Why don’t you have it in The Pit?’” Rosetta said. “But we’ve historically always had it in Johnson Gym or on Johnson Field. So it’s our signature.”
The powwow brought together American Indians from as far as Alaska and New England in a celebration of Native dance and culture.
Exhibitors selling arts and crafts set up shop around the perimeter of a performance arena, where dancers dressed in traditional garb performed ceremonial dances.
Kiva Club President Lane Bird Bear said one of the distinctions between the Nizhoni Day’s powwow and the larger Gathering of Nations is the focus on giving back to the community at the Nizhoni Days event.
One of the Gathering’s big draws is its dance contests, which offer hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes. But despite the commonality of having dance contests at contemporary powwows, UNM Kiva Club chooses not to frame its dances as competitions.
“We met with one of the originators (of Nizhoni Days) last year, and he told us that having a contest would take away from the community and the fun feeling they get from dancing,” Rosetta said.
The powwow, which was free to attend, began at 10 a.m. and continued on until sunset.
Featured festivities included the gourd dance, which was set to the deep rhythm of a heavy drum, a men’s grass dance and a women’s fancy dance. After the ceremonies had concluded, Kiva Club hosted a community feed, where the group served dinner and drinks to all attendees.
“At the end during the community feed, seeing everybody get together was just like … ‘Wow, whew, I’m done!’” Rosetta said.
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Because she’s graduating in December, Rosetta will be passing the office of powwow coordinator to another Kiva Club member in the fall.
Bird Bear, who moved to Albuquerque from North Dakota, will also be graduating. He said Kiva Club has been an influential part of his undergraduate career, and he encourages anybody interested in the local indigenous community — not just students — to check it out.
“As much of a highlight and success that the powwow was and is, it’s only one of the things Kiva Club is involved with. It is so much more than that,” Bird Bear said.
“We’re involved not only with the UNM community but with other communities within the area. We engage a lot with people that aren’t students but really want to see change within their communities, and we’re here offering our assistance in any way we can.”