- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The founder of North America’s largest powwow was outraged by the University of New Mexico’s decision to stop hosting the Gathering of Nations but says the event likely will remain in Albuquerque.

Derek Mathews said the powwow has impacted countless lives and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Albuquerque’s economy over the years.

“We’re appalled at the disrespect and disregard from the university,” Mathews said in a statement this week. He added organizers are in discussions to secure a new venue in the city for 2017.

University of New Mexico data shows that after cleanup costs, the powwow resulted in a loss for the school of more than $2,300 in 2015, compared with a rodeo competition last year that brought about $261,400 in profit. The rodeo gives the school a portion of its ticket sales, while the powwow pays a flat rate for the space.

“At a time when the university is facing tough budgetary constraints, hosting the powwow had become prohibitively costly to our athletic department, as well as risk services, police and security, and other university operations,” the school said in its announcement Wednesday.

Talks to renegotiate the Gathering of Nations contract were unsuccessful last year.

The powwow is the world’s largest gathering of Native Americans and indigenous people. This year’s event, held last month at UNM’s basketball arena, attracted about 3,000 dancers from more than 700 tribes around the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Annually the event attracts between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors. Millions more from countries around the world tune in online via live streaming.

The Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce contributes to the event’s marketing and promotion, and estimates the powwow brings in $20 million for the local economy each year.

Chamber President Alex O. Romero said he understands Mathews’ frustration.

“They had just put on one of the most amazing events, they’re exhausted, they go home, get the mail and find a letter telling them the university is terminating their contract,” he told the Albuquerque Journal. “As they’re reading the letter, the news on television comes on with the same announcement. They’ve been doing this for over 30 years. They’re in shock.”

University of New Mexico spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair told the newspaper the decision was made carefully after much discussion, and every effort was made to give organizers advance notice.

“The Gathering of Nations is a cultural event of great importance to our community,” Blair said. “We will continue to offer our assistance as they transition to another venue and wish the event organizers continued success.”

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry met Thursday with Mathews and members of his family, along with representatives from the Hispano Chamber of Commerce. He said a team from the city, led by Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, will examine how the city might financially support some of the costs associated with the huge production.

The team will put together a plan so the Gathering of Nations “will not only survive, but thrive” in Albuquerque, Berry said.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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