The Taos Pueblo Powwow doesn’t really happen for Richard Archuleta until he’s standing on the announcer’s stand watching the colorful regalia — feathers, …
The Taos Pueblo Powwow doesn’t really happen for Richard Archuleta until he’s standing on the announcer’s stand watching the colorful regalia — feathers, buckskin, flowing fringe — listening to the thundering drums, jingle bells and soaring voices, and letting an indescribable feeling wash over him.
Partly it's pride, grown and tended over three decades putting this event together. It's also pure joy, like a little kid on Christmas morning. Mostly, though, it’s a solemn sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that he’s helped to put something together yet again, that all those people who have gone on before him might be here in spirit and smiling broadly alongside all those dancers.
The powwow didn't happen last year. It was with heavy hearts that Archuleta and members of the Powwow Committee he heads decided to postpone it due to lack of funds, not enough volunteers and, as fellow committee member Debbie Lujan says, the nagging sense that maybe its was just not to be. The year was extremely dry, which limited travel into the mountains to collect wood and leaves for the powwow arena arbor, and things just didn't seem to be falling into place like usual. So, they decided to cancel it.
Of course, this created a huge uproar because the powwow is a highly popular event. For three days on the second weekend in July, hundreds of visitors and participants flood the area’s hotels, motels, campgrounds and anywhere you can pitch a tent eager to enjoy or take part in this beloved event. People wondered if this was the end of a revered tradition. Some wondered if others could maybe take over.
The powwow is more than just a celebration of Native American culture. It is a way to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, It’s a way to learn new songs, find a great new buckskin outfit, connect with relatives and just have fun. In some ways it’s also a way to destroy some nagging stereotypes and to show the world that Native People and their customs and traditions are alive and well. These aren’t the Native People of badly made movies and badly imagined books. This is a flesh and blood life, right in front of you, living and breathing.
Archuleta is quick to insist, though, it cannot happen without the help of volunteers. Nobody gets paid. Nobody makes a bunch of money from the powwow. All the money made from one powwow goes into putting the next one together. And, on top of all that, more money needs to be raised, especially for the prize money.
All of that effort is what results in the Taos Pueblo Powwow.
Archuleta is the last remaining founder of the event. “There’s me, Richard Brown, Carl Concha and Jimmie Cordova, all those three are gone now. Then, two weeks ago, Jan Lujan passed away.” Lujan was one of the powwow’s biggest supporters. She died from cancer. Ruben Romero, a singer and a former governor, is also gone. "Joe David Marcus, Joe Martinez, Joe Sandoval used to sit in with us sometimes.”
Archuleta believes it is important to remember them and their contributions, but he also knows they would want the powwow to continue. Archuleta said he knows he can’t keep doing this forever though and that eventually he would love to turn over the reins to new blood. The hope, however, is that whoever takes it over is able to put as much focus into making it happen in the way it should happen.
Originally, Indian tribes held celebrations to commemorate successful hunts or harvests, Archuleta writes in an online description. Many tribes had ceremonial dances to prepare for war and to celebrate victories. "The old tribal War Dance, as it was known and is still called today, evolved over the last four or five decades into a contemporary social dance and the powwow into a social gathering and celebration time," he writes.
"A powwow usually begins with a grand entry of the dancers," states Archuleta. "All participants dance into the circle in their respective categories, led into the arena by a tribal elder or veteran carrying a staff of eagle feathers. The eagle feather staff is the universal symbol and 'flag' of Indian people throughout North America. When all dancers are in the circle in their respective categories, a flag song or the national anthem of the Indian people is sung, followed by an invocation by a tribal elder. Then the dance begins with intertribal dancing. This is a time when all dancers, competing or not, can 'strut their stuff,' displaying their best dancing abilities.”
He says the dance competition for women and men is divided by age group and dance style. For men these include the traditional, fancy, grass and, most recently, chicken dances. For women the styles include traditional, fancy shawl and jingle dress dances. The “traditional” dance style can sometimes be separated or combined into a Northern and Southern dance style. Age categories include: golden, adult, teens, juniors and sometimes tiny tots.
These are all part of what is called a pan-Indian set of traditions, separate in many important ways from the ceremonials conducted as part of the Taos Pueblo Native religion, which is why visitors may take photographs (with permission of the subjects) and observe the dances.
The powwow is to be enjoyed. Watch the dances, listen to the music, buy some frybread, check out the arts and crafts. This is the music of America, Native America.
Tickets are per person, $15 for a single day, $20 for two days, $25 for three days. Children 10 and under are free. Credit cards are not accepted. Admission covers entry to the powwow only. Admission to Taos Pueblo is separate. There are no refunds for inclement weather.
The Powwow grounds are located at the end of Ben Romero Road in El Prado, just north of the Overland Sheepskin Compound on Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information, call (888) 285-6244 or visit it on Facebook.
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