The Gourd Dance, also known as the “The Warriors Dance,” is believed to originate with the Kiowa or the Comanche tribes. It symbolizes the story of warriors that come together as one to honor those who have served our great country. The dance is centered around Grandfather Drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and a metal rattle that the dancers use to accompany the drum beat. Their opposite hand holds a fan made of feathers, usually those of an eagle.
This time-honored tradition has become part of the New Mexico VA Health Care System (NMVAHCS) in Albuquerque. This year marks the 14th annual Gourd Dance held on the parade grounds at the Albuquerque VA facility. Many in attendance were from tribes near and far.
“We’re honoring all veterans that never received their honors when they returned home,” said Leonard Anthony, who served as Master of Ceremonies.
Tilford Brown, NMVAHCS American Indian Program Manager, describes the dance as entertaining but also a spiritual event. “It is a place where one can feel at ease as the ceremonial songs are being sung,” said Brown.
There are many symbolic rituals that are done during the ceremony. When one is entering the circle, they must enter clockwise and exit in clockwise. The counter-clockwise movement opposes the natural world. During the gathering, some spectators placed sage in a pot at the base of the staff. As the sage smolders, the person is cleansed of any negative thoughts while offering up prayers for loved ones.
“As one looks on at the ceremonial dances and listens to the beat of the drums, you feel a sense of peace and calmness,” said Brown. “The rhythmic sounds of the drum, the sage that lingered in the air and the sense of feeling like you are home, all provide a feel for native culture.”
“The event is similar to a warrior dance I had witnessed in the past,” said Miss Indian Piedra Vista Alana Davis, who attended the Gourd Dance for the first time. “The Gourd Dance is very sacred to me and my family.” Davis and her family traveled from Farmington, New Mexico to attend.
The Warrior Dance also includes a tradition of eating a meal with family and friends consisting of bread, beans, red chili, and cold watermelon.
“Overall the dance, brings a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself,” said Brown. “This was felt throughout the parade grounds.”
Special thanks to Brown, NMVAHCS American Indian Program Committee and the EEO Special Emphasis Program Committee for putting together a memorable event.
Ron Bassford and Paula Aragon are public affairs specialists at the NMVAHCS. Photos by Dave Overson, NMVAHCS Public Affairs.