PROFILES


Pendleton Vans make a big splash at the Gathering of Nations 2011.
Photo credit: Andrea Hanks/Dawn of Nations Today

Gathering of Nations 2011 - First Impressions
by Marcus K. Moore, Dawn of Nations Today

I attended the Gathering of Nations Powwow at the University of New Mexico"s PIT for the first time this past weekend. I didn’t know what to expect or what to see, but I felt good knowing that I was going to an event that was geared towards the Native people of America. I arrived early Saturday afternoon and the place was already jammed packed with people. I decided to take a look at the arts and crafts and maybe get a chance to interact with some of the artists, unfortunately everyone was busy. I then ventured off to a tent outside where more activities were taking place. I passed a few food merchants and I only saw about two vendors selling Native American food, the rest of the vendors were selling corn dogs and what not, even Blake’s Lotaburger had a food stand. Inside there were more vendors; models were selling calendars, people selling indigenous clothing, and I even saw a man wearing a pair of Vans made out of Pendleton Blanket material.

After I looked at the exhibits, I went to Stage 49 to see the acts that were going to perform. The first performer, Shawn Michael Perry, played some contemporary rock with an indigenous theme. A band called “Stateline,” from the Navajo Reservation performed next and drew in a few more spectators. Stateline is a popular country band that plays some original music and a few cover songs. Between the acts, there was a group of kids called the “Niyohkwarita:’a Dancers,” from the Six Nations in Ontario, Canada. The kids would dance or skip to the beat of the drum and would move their feet very fast at the end of the song. They performed the Smoke Dance and Round Dance. Miss Indian World participated in the dances as well, the 2010 and 2011 Miss Indian World, Dakota Brant is also from the Six Nations.

After I saw the other attractions that went with The Gathering of Nations, I decided to make my way back into the powwow to see the drum groups. There were about eight drum groups on the floor and the groups took turns singing and drumming in a clockwise rotation. Dancers, as well as men and women from the stands were allowed to head to the floor and dance.


Gourd Dancing at the Gathering of Nations.
Photo credit: Andrea Hanks/Dawn of Nations Today

Gourd Dancing followed the drum groups and I found it to be very spiritual. There were mostly men participating in the event and they all looked alike. The men were either wearing a sash around their waist or a scarf around their neck, the length of the scarf almost touched the feet of the Gourd dancers. The scarf or sash was red and blue with gold trim. The rattles the men used looked to be made out of silver. I couldn’t help but notice that the ceremony was closely related to the Native American Church. The Gourd Dancers formed a circle around the drum and danced around it and the drumming group played and sang. The men would dance closer to the drum group through out the duration of the songs, but the women that participated stayed at the outer edge of the circle and never moved closer to the drum as the men did. The men participating in this event seemed to be veterans of the United States military. The men put their ribbons and military rank on the scarves and they wore much military insignia. I never observed a drum group and the only powwow music I heard was through friends that frequent powwow’s. The drum was very powerful and loud. I could see the importance of the drum and the passion the groups had for their music.

The main attraction of the evening was “Grand Entry,” the dancers from all over the Americas stood in the isles of the PIT and some were ready to come out of the locker rooms. A bald eagle was brought out and a prayer was said to bless the event and its attendees. The eagle flapped its wings to the crowd and the people blessed themselves. After the eagle blessed the people, three drum groups were ready to start and they were placed side by side on the arena floor. The three groups sang the “Gathering of Nations,” song and the dancers were introduced and allowed to take the floor. Grand Entry took about twenty minutes and there were about two thousand dancers that participated. The whole arena was packed. The dancers and spectators made up a diversity of different tribes from around the Americas.

 


Photo courtesy of Adams State College

 

Brandon Leslie Runs The Distance
by Vanessa D. Ortiz, Dawn of Nations Today

I started running when I was 13 years old. Famous Navajo runner Brandon Leslie started when he was in the eighth grade.

Brandon qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials. And I am trying to make my mark on the University of New Mexico’s women’s cross-country and track team.

I grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and heard tidbits about Brandon Leslie. Although I am of Hispanic descent, he indirectly came into my running world about four years ago.
My teammates and I ran into him at a local restaurant across from the University but I knew nothing about him.

After asking my teammates about him and listening to their answers, I wanted to know more.

Leslie is one of the best distance runners New Mexico has ever seen. If you haven’t heard of the Native American athlete from Gallup, N.M., you’re missing out.

He qualified for the 2004 Olympics Trials. And at one point was compared to and called the ‘Next Billy Mills’ the only Native American to win Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters race. He won at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to qualify for Olympic Trials or to win a gold medal. But I can relate to Leslie as a runner.

I started running because I was being pushed around on the soccer field and needed to make a choice between the two. I took fourth at the Junior Olympic Nationals and was a three-time high school state champion. And finally in 2006, I had my greatest accomplishment yet: I was offered a full-ride scholarship to UNM for both cross-country and track and field.

I’ve always been curious to learn about successful runners, including local runners, so when I learned that Leslie was a New Mexican my interest level shot through the roof.
Many successful distance runners are from Kenya; so seeing a New Mexican, like myself, get success in my sport makes me feel like I can do it too.

It’s been a few years since many have heard from the Navajo runner, so I decided to do a little investigating to see what he is up to.

The veteran runner is now living in Gallup, N.M. coaching the Gallup High School track and cross-country teams, as well as teaching fifth-grade students.
Leslie said coaching was always a passion he had so when he got a chance to coach he took it.

“I have always wanted to work with kids who enjoy running,” Leslie said in a phone interview. “I feel like I can share my experiences and let them understand all the possibilities. I want to teach them how important it is to work hard academically and (in) running.”

He said after he qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials he got injured and things weren’t working out for him so he decided to get a “real job” as a coach.

It’s been said that Leslie was given a running scholarship to Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo., but dropped out because of challenges he faces with a learning disorder.

He didn’t really start running until he was in the eighth grade. He said he ran the mile race and clocked a time of 5:01 and decided it was time to take running seriously.

He went from dropping out of college (and eventually went back) to qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Trials, running the 2007 Marathon Trials and being a part of the World Cross Country Team, all of which he is very proud of.

I may not have had quite as many accomplishments as Leslie has had, but as a runner I know how it feels to reach some big goals.

When I was a freshman I was awarded the Freshman Athlete of the Year Award in the Mountain West Conference. I was a scorer for most races and this year the cross-country team took 5th place at Nationals.

But one thing I can’t get over is how Leslie was and is considered the “next Billy Mills.”
Leslie said it was humbling to be compared to Mills, but it also was a great honor.

“The hardest part was when people didn’t understand my accomplishments. I just wasn’t meant to win a medal at the Olympics. The day just wasn’t meant for me…I did my best but some people would just look at what I didn’t do and consider me to be a failure,” he said. “Billy Mills, I am fortunate to say he is a great friend and has a great work ethic. He concentrates on younger kids and helps them realize their dreams. I am so fortunate to know him personally.”

Being a runner myself I could relate to Leslie. Often times I did my best but some people would just look at what I didn’t do and consider me to be a failure.

I know first hand how hard it is to be a successful runner. There is a lot of time needed to put into the sport.

For now, Leslie will continue to get coach at the high school level but don’t count on him being out of the loop for too long. He already feels the itch for another big accomplishment. “I still get that urge of competing and doing hard workouts,” he said. “I do miss the hard training. I still don’t feel like hanging it up.”

 

 

 

Dawn of Nations Today Volumn 6; Issue 1; May 2011, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M.

Dawn of Nations Today is a special edition published by the Native American Studies Department, University College, University of New Mexico
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