Taos Pueblo Pow Wow takes a hiatus

Organizers say break needed to raise funds, new support for popular event

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This year's popular Taos Pueblo Pow Wow has been canceled.

Primary pow-wow organizers Richard Archuleta and Debbie Lujan expect to bring the three-decade old event back in 2019, bigger and better than ever.

But this year, faced with the loss of some stalwart volunteers, the need for funding and new time constraints, Archuleta and Lujan decided it was time to take a break and reorganize the event. The 33rd annual powwow was originally scheduled for July 13-15.

"We're overwhelmed at this time," said Archuleta, who recently also took on the full time job managing the Taos Pueblo senior center. "We plan to come back full force in 2019."

Archuleta was one of the founders of the pow-wow in the mid-1980s. He's organized it every year with the help of an all volunteer staff. Lujan joined a few years ago and has been handling many of the details from marketing to coordinating vendors and helping with fundraising.

Financial support over the years has come from the Taos Pueblo government, Taos Mountain Casino, lodgers tax, local Taos businesses and other donations.

But they need about $80,000 to put on the powwow this year, funding they haven't been able to pull together this time.

"It requires a lot of volunteer help to put it on," Archuleta said, noting one of their long-time helpers needed a break, one has cancer and two others have family obligations this year.

Finding volunteers willing to put in the long hours required to organize the event, build the shade arbor and dance arena, keep the pow-wow grounds clean during the three day powwow, and help the hundreds of vendors, dancers, singers and spectators who show up every year, is no easy task.

In addition, he noted, the pow-wow competes with other powwows across the nation that pay more in prize money. Pow wows are social gatherings that date back more than a century. But in the last couple of decades, the powwow circuit has become extremely competitive, with professional singers and dancers making their livelihoods from the events.

Taos Pueblo Pow Wow, for example, offers $40,000 in total prizes including $3,000 for first place singers. But at least one other powwow held across the country by another tribe offers a $20,000 first place prize for singers, Archuleta said.

"Old, traditional non-prize money powwows are fading away," he said, talking about a time when the events were important all-day and night gatherings for native peoples to socialize, share stories and demonstrate their dance skills. The events were less about winning prizes than simply being with old friends and making new ones.

That's changed. While socializing is still the heart of powwows, the climate of contemporary ones now is driven by big prizes.

Hundreds of powwows fill up every weekend through the spring, summer and fall around the United States and Canada.

"You have to make it enticing to bring in the dancers," Archuleta said, noting the number of dancers had declined from a high of about 500 registered dancers a few years ago to about 200 last year.

Like many of the powwows, the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow has grown more sophisticated over the years. When the powwow started, "we had gas generators for electricity. One year in the middle of the night, the lights started to dim because we were running out of gas," Archuleta recalled with a laugh. "We had to go find some gas quick."

They had two outhouses dug by volunteers to serve as bathrooms. Water had to be hauled in.

With the Taos Pueblo government's blessing and support, the powwow committee installed a water line and electricity to the powwow grounds. They have rows of portable toilets now that the contractor keeps clean during the event. And the pow-wow grounds have wi-fi.

But none of that comes for free.

Archuleta and Lujan said they've tried to make it a special event to match its unparalleled natural setting near the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The dance arena is large. They work hard to attract quality food vendors. They and the volunteers clean up the trash every day during the event.

Archuleta said the powwow has grown into an important revenue generator for the town of Taos and local businesses, another reason it is unfortunate they feel the need to cancel it this summer. While many dancers, singers and vendors camp out at the powwow grounds, others stay in hotels. So do the visitors who come from across New Mexico and other states to see or participate in the powwow. More than once pow-wow competitors and visitors have noted they had to stay in hotels in Española and Las Vegas because the rooms in Taos were full, Archuleta said.

This summer will be only the second time in its history that the powwow has been canceled. In 2003, the Encebado Fire burning in the mountains near Taos Pueblo prompted Archuleta and the powwow committee to cancel the event that year. The pow-wow grounds became the staging area for firefighting operations as the blaze loomed over the pueblo.

Canceling this year's event has been a tough decision, they said.

"We know we're (affecting) the livelihoods of some of the vendors by postponing the event this year," Lujan said. "It took a lot of time for us to come to this decision."

"There is remorse in this whole thing," Archuleta said, his voice breaking slightly. "I feel sad about it. I think about all the people who will be affected and all the people who've been there. It hurts."

Archuleta and Lujan are already making plans for next year's powwow. They hope to hold a meeting in late fall after feast day to find new helpers. They learned Friday they were awarded $5,000 in Lodger's Tax from Taos County to use toward next year's powwow. "We are already making plans for next year," Lujan said. "This is just a hiatus."

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