October 7, 2008 by Mario A. Montes NMSU News Center
New Mexico State University will once again host the Rio Grande Pow Wow Oct. 11-12, at NMSU’s football practice field, east of the softball field. The Pow Wow is a social gathering of Native Americans to celebrate their heritage and partake in a festive and spiritual expression of dance and song. Activities will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday and at 11 a.m. on Sunday with gourd dancing by the Mescalero Gourd Society. Grand entry begins at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
This year’s special guest will be Navajo scholar and medicine man Norman Bahe, who will give a lecture on Navajo customs at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11. Bahe will also give a lecture at 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 10 in the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum Auditorium. Also, the NMSU Army ROTC program will post and retrieve the colors on both days of the Pow Wow. Some Native American ROTC students are part of the color guard for this year’s Pow Wow.
Bahe was brought to the Pow Wow through a New Mexico Humanities Council grant secured by Connie Rickenbaker, director of student teaching at the College of Education at NMSU and project director and planner for the Pow Wow Bahe presentations.
The Pow Wow was first held at the NMSU campus in 2006, after former President Michael Martin invited the organizers to the campus. INCA (Indigenous Nations for Community Action) is the organization that put together the first Pow Wow, which was held at Fort Selden State Monument. INCA was formed by Matt Runsabove, Lakota tribe member, and John Yazzie, Navajo tribe member, after they met and realized that the Las Cruces area had no Native American events or groups that represented the native people in the area.
Since holding the Pow Wow at NMSU, Yazzie said it has grown, and they have received a lot of support from the city, county and other organizations. The Piro Manso Tiwa tribe from the Guadalupe Pueblo of Las Cruces, the City of Las Cruces, Roberto’s Mexican Food restaurant, INCA and NMSU are sponsoring this year’s Pow Wow.
“It’s been a very positive thing for the university, INCA itself and the city of Las Cruces,” Yazzie said. “What it has done is it has brought people from up north, from different reservations, the Pueblos, Navajo reservation, Mescaleros and the San Carlos Apaches. We’ve attracted those folks here to attend the Pow Wow, and they have realized that NMSU is a very culturally diverse university, which acknowledges even the small number (24 percent in 2007) of the Native American population at the school. It has had a very positive effect on the people that come here,” Yazzie said.
“NMSU is honored with the celebration of the Rio Grande Pow Wow for the third consecutive year. We welcome our visitors with open arms. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to host them for this memorable gathering that enhances the educational mission of our institution,” said Waded Cruzado, interim president of NMSU.
The origins of the Native American social dancing, or Pow Wow, can be traced back to the late ’40s after World War II, said Don Pepion, college associate professor of Native American studies at NMSU and a Blackfeet tribal member. However, throughout history Native Americans have always had dances that were performed in their own tribal camps and later in the reservations, Pepion said. The Pow Wow was established to gather native people from different tribes. So, when Native Americans met during and after WWII they would gather to find out their tribal affiliations and learn each other’s tribal customs. Naturally, a gathering or Pow Wow, was a means to accomplish this type of recognition.
Runsabove, being a Lakota or Plains Native American, explained that their Pow Wows were a fun gathering but southwestern Native Americans’ Pow Wows are ceremonial in nature and sometimes only members of the tribe can attend or understand what the dances and songs mean. Each dance and movement has a purpose. And in the Rio Grande Pow Wow, a moderator will be explaining the movements and meanings of the dances, Runsabove said.
Yazzie is a Navajo and said that he knew nothing about Pow Wows because that is not part of his tribal culture. But Yazzie explained that since being involved in coordinating this Pow Wow, he has made a lot of friends and learned a lot about Pow Wows.
“It seems the more I do the bigger my family gets. So when all is said and done and when everybody leaves, I feel as though my family leaves,” Yazzie said. “There is always a good sense of friendship and relationships.”
Admission into the 2008 Rio Grande Pow Wow is $4.00. Attendees are asked to bring their own chairs, and no alcoholic beverages will be permitted. Food and beverage vendors will be available.