14th Annual New Mexico VA Gourd Dance revitalizes the human spirit


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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 year marks the 14th annual Gourd Dance held on the parade grounds at the Albuquerque VA facility. The Gourd Dance symbolizes the story of warriors that come together as one to honor those who have served our great country.

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.

Food is also important to The War Dance.

The Warrior Dance also includes a tradition of eating a meal with family and friends consisting of bread, beans, red chili, and cold watermelon.

“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. 

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Comments

  1. Darius Carter    

    Thanks to all that played a part in allowing and acknowledge the military service and sacrifice of indigenous peoples. It would be awesome if this were incorporated at all “VAMC across the land”. As a Native and Military Veteran who has served abd lost comrades during peace and wartime. I know the frustration of not being acknowledged for your contribution to “peace”, God bless for your service!!!

  2. Gordon J. Graves    

    I work for the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. I serve on the American Indian Veteran’s Advisory Council. I am half Mexican with a percentage of Indian blood in me but the reason I serve on this committee is because I want to increase awareness that the most highly represented ethnic group per capita serving in our military are Native Americans. Not everyone knows this and I want to help insure these warriors get the respect they deserve. We also have a Native American Veteran Honoring ceremony at our VAMC scheduled for September 14th this year which will include prayer, smudging, drumming, dancing, testimonies, storytelling and a huge food celebration. The rest of the year our AIVAC committee has a mission to work toward improving relations with local tribes and helping Native American Veterans get better access to health care especially those living in rural communities. We meet regularly and had our first bi-annual Indian Veteran Town Hall meeting recently with VA leadership and department heads there to allow these Veterans to air grievances, answer questions and hopefully solve some problems. We hope to build on this first experience as it becomes more and more known. I am truly honored to be a part of this committee and look forward to furthering it’s cause. It is certainly not a “publicity stunt” by another VA but rather some caring employees and volunteers who take their mission seriously. Thank you.

  3. Mark Oresko    

    This immediately struck me and made me feel obligated to mention a brother who I can say I’m lucky to have served with. Catcher Cutstherope was warrior unlike any other.

  4. Warren Oakley    

    All human beings have a great day.

  5. Celeste wines    

    Always different things about Indians and va. Although nothing can be done about a veteran who is also Indian has a hard time proving without high costs that they are Indian. I thought they work together. The name and their backgrounds on everyone of both should be proof.

  6. Linda Breen    

    Kudos to Tilford Brown, NMVAHCS
    TWRP helping warriors maintain a sense of dignity and respect along with acknowledging their spirit to be warriors and protect others. How awesome it is that now we have warriors that are young enough to maintain the sense of camaradatee and not forget those that served.

  7. T    

    U send out email containing information about health record migration, AND NOTHING FURTHER ABOUT IT.
    We call that an ambush email, which is an email that sends info for a headlines but nothing else, or broken links that never get fixed.
    Please stop sending me email that would be considered an AMBUSH EMAIL

Comments are closed.