taos pueblo pow wow past and future

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A Grand Entry

In a pasture at the base of Taos Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rockies, a shade structure made of timbers and brush creates a broad, circular stage for the three-day event that’s beginning. Already, Taos Pueblo’s governor and war chief have welcomed dancers, musicians, tribal members and the public. An elder has invoked a prayer for this event and those here. 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 pow wow dancers pass through the entryway and 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 this evening. 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 today likely originated among the Great Plains people. These gatherings were a means to safeguard their culture after they were exiled from their homelands by the U.S. government and settlers. 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.

Taos Pueblo Pow Wow

The Red Willow People of Taos Pueblo share a relationship with the Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa and Osage Great Plains folk that predates colonization, by ties of hunting, trade and marriage. 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.

Taos Pueblo began hosting an annual pow wow in 1985 taking place every second weekend in July – minus three occasions: a fire on pueblo lands, the death of an elder and now, and currently, pueblo closure due to COVID-19. Besides those three occasions, folk have gathered every year 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 these people who not only survived but thrived. It all coalesces to enhance the mystique that is Taos Pueblo. Though the next Taos Pueblo Pow Wow won’t happen until 2021, its history and the culture that it sustains will endure into the future.

By Mackenzi Frederick.

Mackenzi is a writer and editor who has lived in Taos since 2000.


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