Santa Clara University (SCU) students in the Native American Coalition for Change (NACC), formed in 2016, decided that it was time for Native Americans to reclaim their place in history at SCU, which resides on the traditional homeland of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe.
The NACC organized SCU’s first ever intertribal pow wow on May 4. They invited Native Californians and Americans from across the U.S., even Hawaii, to the celebration of Native American culture, traditions and history.
“Native Americans are still viewed as history. The pow wow is a good step in moving forward and supporting the culture today,” said pow wow chairperson Catherine Moore, a junior and one of the under one percent of Native Americans enrolled at SCU.
Pow wows are one of the few Native American ceremonies that are public. An estimated 1,000 community members and participants attended the historic event in the Mission Gardens.
The Native Americans gathered with their families to celebrate, pray and compete for cash prizes in song, drum and dance competitions.
Antelope resident Robert Lonebear, of the Hidatsa Mandan tribe, was the head man dancer. He was born in Santa Clara and grew up in San Jose.
“The pow wow is a social gathering, a celebration that brings the family together to have a good time,” said Lonebear. “We joke and tell stories and learn from each other. Dancers compete against the drums.”
Head woman dancer Ruby Vigil-Carino, a teacher in San Jose, is an SCU alumna. She is a Jicarilla Apache.
Like other pow wow dancers, Vigil-Carino and Lonebear wore their finest, most colorful traditional tribal clothing. Their handmade regalia of buckskin, feathers, beads, and jangles is passed down in the family.
“This was our way of life, and the government tried really hard to annihilate us, but we’re still here,” said Milpitas resident Tiny Rosales, an Ojibwe. She was fixing her daughter Genesis’ hair in preparation for the Grand Entry procession, the official pow wow opening.
Although not this day, Rosales said that she does a medicine healing dance that transports her to a different place.
“It’s such a beautiful feeling, like nothing else,” said Rosales. “It takes you to such a place when you’re out there dancing to the drum beat and saying all the prayers with each step.”
“It’s an honor to be the head boy dancer,” said Rosales’s son, Marshall, who does the chicken dance. “I feel proud to be an Ojibwe.”
The Ohlone people were thriving when Mission Santa Clara was founded in 1777. But by 1830, they had been decimated by small pox and measles, and they were pushed to the margins of California history.
“We want people to know we’re still here. We don’t live in teepees. We want to share our culture and educate people to know that we’re not extinct,” said Lonebear.
In January 2018, 573 Native American tribes were federally recognized in the contiguous U.S. by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Federal recognition entitles tribes to funding and services.
A New Tradition
“I’m excited that they started a pow wow here and hope they have another one — with more vendors,” said onlooker and Native American Heidi Oblander from San Jose.
“It educates native youth that they’re welcome anywhere. And not a lot of people get the chance to see natives in their native regalia.”
The NACC, a student organization with under a dozen members, provides a safe space for Native American students, celebrates native tradition and promotes their inclusion at SCU.
“I’m excited for next year. We couldn’t have asked for a better first pow wow,” said Moore. “I’m really happy for the campus support and how much they want Native Americans to have a presence on campus.
“If all we do is host a pow wow every year, that is enough. It raises awareness of Native American culture and spreads the word of Santa Clara University across the country.”
The 48th Annual Stanford Pow Wow was May 10 – 12. Visit www.powwows.com for a comprehensive listing of pow wows nationwide.