This May, we welcome the Stanford Powwow back to campus after two years of virtual gatherings. I expect many of our alumni have fond memories of Powwow—a student-led event that brings Native American dancers, singers and artists from across the country to Stanford for a celebration of Indigenous cultures. Last year, the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) celebrated the 50th anniversary of Powwow, so it feels especially meaningful to be back in person this year.
SAIO was founded in 1970 to increase educational opportunities for Native American students at Stanford. The organization hit the ground running, launching Powwow in 1971, successfully advocating for the discontinuation of Stanford’s Indian mascot in 1972 and working to increase Indigenous enrollment through the early 1970s. Today, Stanford’s community includes more than 450 Indigenous-identifying students, representing more than 50 tribes and island nations. The Native American Cultural Center, the Muwekma-Tah-Ruk theme house and Native American studies serve as key spaces for conversation, learning and connection centered on Stanford’s Native American community.
Now, three alumni are telling the 50-year story of SAIO in new ways. Matt Yellowtail, ’18, and Constance Owl, ’18, current resident fellows of Muwekma-Tah-Ruk, are working on a story map and oral history project with interviews, archives and stories told by Native American students and alumni. This complements a remarkable oral history series, 50 for 50, created by previous resident fellow Shoney Hixson Blake, ’06, and featuring interviews with Indigenous alumni each week for the 50 weeks that led up to the 50th Powwow in May 2021.
It is through sharing stories and traditions, collaborating with local tribes, and making ongoing efforts to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion on campus that we can continue to deepen Stanford’s relationship with Native people, as well as improve our understanding of the full history of Stanford.
We continue to work to strengthen the relationship between the university and Native American members of our community, as well as neighboring tribes. In this work, we have found key partners in the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, on whose ancestral territory the university is located. Working with tribal leadership, the university began the process of repatriating Ohlone remains in the 1980s. Today, Stanford researchers work with the tribe on research projects that focus on tribal priorities, including identifying Muwekma Ohlone sites and uncovering more about the group’s history in the region.
Native American community members have advocated for important developments on our campus too. In 2019, the university renamed some but not all of the campus landmarks previously named for Junípero Serra, founder of the California mission system. The renaming was a collaborative process, involving our Native American community on campus, leaders of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, and other affected groups. At the community’s suggestion, one building was renamed for Carolyn (Lewis) Attneave, MA ’47, PhD ’52, a Stanford alumna of Lenni Lenape descent who established the field of Native American mental health.
In collaboration with the Muwekma Ohlone, the university also finalized its land acknowledgement in October 2021. The statement honors the significance of the land to the Muwekma Ohlone people and recognizes the university’s responsibility of stewardship. The land acknowledgement website launched on Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021 and offers guidance for members of the Stanford community who wish to incorporate this show of respect into campus activities and events.
We have more work to do. But it is through sharing stories and traditions, collaborating with local tribes, and making ongoing efforts to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion on campus that we can continue to deepen Stanford’s relationship with Native people, as well as improve our understanding of the full history of Stanford. As we celebrate our community through multicultural gatherings like Powwow and the first-ever Indigenous alumni summit, which will take place this fall, I’m filled with gratitude for the partnership and rich contributions of Indigenous people in our community and across our region.
Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.