Organizers for the annual Gathering of Nations Pow Wow are looking for a new venue — including in other states — after the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque recently canceled its contract after 30 years of hosting the event.
Gathering of Nations was one of the biggest annual events in Albuquerque, and it commonly was included in the calendar of events page on Route 66 News.
The university cited tight budgets and a $2,380 loss on the 2015 event for the cancellation, even though the event for dozens of Native American tribes generated more than $20 million to the local economy from its 75,000 visitors each year.
But an in-depth article this past weekend in the Albuquerque Journal reveals Gathering of Nations organizer Derek Mathews and university officials had quarreled for years. And it wasn’t just money that prompted the university to make its move:
According to Harris, the event organizers controlled ticketing, which prevented UNM from knowing the number of people in the arena at any given time, creating potential crowd capacity and fire dangers. Further, he said, the organizers insisted that UNM campus police not be allowed in the building for fear the presence of armed and uniformed officers “was a potential powder keg.”
This last excerpt from the story shows how much animosity there was:
Any chance that the university and the Mathews family might settle their differences was pretty much laid to rest in the days following the termination when UNM President Bob Frank held a meeting in his office with Mathews, his wife, Lita, their daughter Melonie and a number of UNM officials.
According to Harris, who was present for the meeting, Melonie Mathews, who coordinates the Miss Indian World competition, told those assembled that she thought the UNM administration was “a group of inept, ham-handed chicken shits,” Harris said. “And that’s verbatim. I remember because that’s when I left.”
His exit was anything but casual, recalled Derek Mathews.
“He bolted. He almost knocked over President Frank to get to the door.”
I suspect egos got in the way of both sides of the dispute. The citing of a $2,300 loss by the university amid a multimillion-dollar budget seems petty.
And it seems Mathews’ unwillingness to budge over ticket-sales and security issues could have been avoided. Mathews says he’ll find another venue to host Gathering of Nations, including possible sites in the Route 66 states of Illinois, Oklahoma and Kansas, among others. But the picture painted in the article of Mathews and his intransigence probably will raise a big red flag with possible suitors.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the coming years if a leadership change occurs in the Gathering of Nations and the university, and UNM will host the event again — with minor changes, of course.
UPDATE 6/1/2016: Gathering of Nations has found a new venue at Expo New Mexico, aka the New Mexico State Fair, in Albuquerque, reported the Journal.
(Image from the 2013 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque by Julie Francois via Flickr)