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Taos is New Mexico True
Taos, NM
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A woman singing at the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow

In a pasture at the base of Taos Mountain, a shade structure made of timbers and brush creates a broad, circular stage for the three-day event known as the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. Every year, Taos Pueblo’s governor and war chief welcome dancers, musicians, tribal members, and the public to the celebration.

The Pow Wow Grand Entry

An elder invokes a prayer, and singers gather around drummers, who tap out the rhythm of the song that signals the Friday night Grand Entry procession of the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. The master of ceremony welcomes an honor guard as they proceed into the center, bearing the flags of the United States, New Mexico, Taos Pueblo, and the POW-MIA for Native American veterans.

A murmur builds to excited cries as the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow dancers pass through the entryway before the crowd. They dazzle the onlookers with their regalia, which ranges from the more classical construction of fur, leather, bead, feather, and bone to contemporary touches like neon ribbons and cotton prints. The youngest―toddlers holding their parent’s hand and older children proudly dancing on their own―are as splendidly garbed. They, who learned to dance through observation and participation, will be the first group showcased. What follows is a weekend of brilliant colors, precise movements, tradition, and innovation as dancers perform and vie to share in the prize purse.

Pow Wow History

Pow wows, as we are familiar with them today, likely originated among the Great Plains people. These gatherings were a means to safeguard the peoples’ culture after they were exiled from their homelands by settlers and by the U.S. government. Forced onto reservations, they often suffered or died from lack of resources. Some reservations clustered antagonistic, even warring, groups, who had to learn to live together. And yet, they survived.

Pow wows gained momentum during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It was the first time that tribes could gather to perform these dances without fear of reprisal or being shut down. Ilona Spruce, Taos Pueblo Tourism Director, describes the pow wow as a “tool and strategic way to ensure cultural survival,” even in the worst of circumstances. In modern times, pow wows occur regularly across the U.S. and Canada, linking communities and strengthening heritage.

Birth and Endurance of the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow

The Red Willow People of Taos Pueblo share a relationship with the Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Osage Great Plains folk―through ties of hunting, trade, and marriage―that predates colonization. They, along with many other Native American nations, have adopted the pow wow as their own, although its dances and songs are not a part of their own history. The women’s jingle dance, for example, originated with the Ojibwe as a way to heal illness and injury.

The annual Taos Pueblo Pow Wow began in 1985. Since then, it has taken place every second weekend in July, minus three occasions: when a fire occurred on pueblo lands, upon the death of an elder, and due to the Pueblo’s closure during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Every other year, folk have gathered to dance, sing, eat, create, and renew familial and community connections. Pow wow participants and visitors are drawn to the unobstructed views of the Mountain, the beauty of the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow grounds, and the fortitude of the people who have not only survived but thrived. It all coalesces to enhance the mystique that is Taos Pueblo.