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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A thunderous, rhythmic roar of jingling bells and beating drums rumbled through University of New Mexico Arena on Friday as hundreds of Native American and indigenous dancers gathered for the start of powwow season.
The three-day Gathering of Nations, North America's largest powwow, drew more than 1,500 competitive dancers and tens of thousands of spectators from across the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico.
The festivities kicked off with dancers from Saskatchewan and a drum group from Quebec in acknowledgement of the "Idle No More" movement that is sweeping across Indian Country.
"It just brings the people together, just to reassure that we all need to stick together for the purpose and for the cause, that we can't forget who we are," said Larry Yazzie, one of the powwow's masters of ceremonies.
Idle No More has garnered a worldwide following through social media while reopening constitutional issues involving the relationship between the federal government and Native communities in the U.S. and Canada. The movement began after indigenous groups protested a Canadian proposal that they said would threaten their self-governance and control of traditional land bases.
Rallies have been held in many U.S. communities over the past year, giving way to more awareness and a new generation of activism among Native Americans.
At the 30th annual Gathering of Nations, there was a renewed sense of pride among some dancers.
Aside from showing off their dance skills, some participants said the powwow was also a chance to reinvigorate interest in culture, particularly for younger generations.
The dancers donned traditional costumes made of colorful beads, feathers, fringed leather and bells. It took close to an hour Friday as they poured into the bottom of the arena, better known as The Pit, for the grand entry.
Pounding their feet in rhythm with the drummers, the steady stream of dancers twisted in toward the center of the arena, getting tighter with each rotation, until the floor was packed.
Spectators filled the stands, many watching through the screens of their cameras and smartphones.
Yazzie said the dances are just part of the traditions that need to be carried on. He also pointed to oral stories and medicines.
"Through history, we've been through a lot ... but we survive. We are warriors," he said.