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Changes Come to One of World's Largest Indigenous Gatherings

The event is expected to attract as many as 100,000 attendees to New Mexico's largest city this week

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    Changes Come to One of World's Largest Indigenous Gatherings
    AP Photo/Russell Contreras
    Native American dancers from the United States and Canada take part in the grand entry to the Gathering of Nations on Friday, April 28, 2017 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Thousands of dancers in traditional, vibrant regalia on Friday officially opened the Gathering of Nations — one of North America's most prominent American Indian powwows.

    Dancers from across the United States, Canada and Mexico launched the event with a grand entry for a powwow that is expected to attract as many as 100,000 attendees to New Mexico's largest city this week. The powwow will feature a number of competitions for dancers, drummers and performers.

    One of the world's largest gatherings of indigenous people, which runs through Saturday, comes after the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota became a historic display of Native American solidarity.

    The event in Albuquerque has grown over the years but will have a new, smaller space for dancers and other performers from across the U.S. Still, organizers say the new venue expands opportunities for the Indian Market and live entertainment outside the powwow.

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    Here are some things to know:

    NEW VENUE: Expo New Mexico, site of the annual state fair, holds 11,500 people, a drop from the 15,000 that the previous facility could accommodate.

    However, the floor for performances is bigger. Larry Yazzie, the event's official announcer, said attendees will notice better acoustics during the powwow and a more intimate experience.

    When it was held at the University of New Mexico's basketball arena, attendees often complained about parking and leaving their cars in unattended areas. Expo New Mexico has a larger parking lot and security on hand, said Dan Mourning, facility general manager.

    ENTERTAINMENT STAGE: The new venue allows more space and flexibility for live entertainment outside the powwow. Stage 49 will feature contemporary Native American music and entertainment, including the all-female melodic death thrash band, Suspended.

    In addition to Aztec dancers and traditional music, the stage will feature non-Native performers such as Bronx-born DJ Logic and guitarist Vernon Reid of the band Living Colour.

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    INDIAN MARKET: Organizers say there will be more space for shopping and an exhibition of Native artifacts from throughout the Americas. This year's Indian Market features more than 800 artists, crafters and traders from around the world.

    In the past, vendors were packed into a small space and their numbers were limited. Now, organizers say they have more flexibility for the indoor market that will allow shoppers to browse easier.

    PIPELINE PROTESTS: The powwow comes as Native Americans keep discussing protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, said Tara Gatewood, host and producer of syndicated public radio show Native America Calling.

    Some activists who won't be at the Gathering of Nations likely will be at follow-up protests in Washington, D.C., New York and in other parts of the country, Gatewood said.

    Yazzie says the event is nonpolitical and won't seek to focus on the pipeline protests. But many of the attendees journeyed to North Dakota for the protests and the event will acknowledge the "water protectors."

    The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes said the pipeline threatens their sovereignty, religious rights and water supply. The Crow tribe — a traditional foe of the Sioux — joined the demonstrations.

    In February, authorities dispersed the last remaining holdouts ahead of the spring flooding season.