“Our pow wow is unique because its inclusive and student driven," says Leah Belgarde, co-chair of the Stanford University Pow Wow. "We really rely on different perspectives that students bring to the pow wow each year."
The Stanford Pow Wow, celebrating its 42nd anniversary this year, is one of the largest student-run Native gatherings in the U.S. The pow wow will be held Mother's Day weekend, May 10-12, on campus at Eucalyptus Grove in Palo Alto. The Stanford American Indian Organization, organizers of the pow wow, says the pow wow annually draws 30,000 people, more than 300 dancers, 15 to 20 drums and offers prize money of $35,000.
“Since the pow wow is held on Mother’s Day weekend each year, we always have an honor song for mothers. We honor graduating seniors and hold an elders dinner every year,” said Belgarde.
The pow wow is a great way for students to get involved, added Belgarde. “Since we have over 10 committees to help prepare for the pow wow, many students are given the opportunity to become leaders.
“We don’t have the same students working on the pow wow each year, which makes it challenging but it also provides new opportunities for change. This illustrates the diversity of our pow wow,” said Belgarde
This year, there are more than 40 students, from various backgrounds, with tribal and non-tribal affiliations who are responsible for the event facilities, budget, competitions, and vendor applications, among other committee duties. There are an estimated 300 Native students out of 7,000 undergraduates in Stanford University, said Belgarde.
Other than leadership and diversity, Belgarde, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and a senior majoring in psychology, and co-chair Katie Cromack, a Diné senior majoring in international relations, said it has also raised the awareness of Native American culture in the campus and in the Bay area.
“It really brings us together as a community because it’s something we do together. It inspires pride in students. The pow wow helps strengthen the Native community and gives us a prominent position in the Stanford community,” said Cromack.
The powwow opens on Friday the 10th, with special performances at 5 p.m. and grand entry at 7 p.m. The Indian Art Market, with over 100 booths that showcase food, information, arts and crafts, also opens on Friday. On Saturday, the 17th Annual Fun Run is scheduled in the morning. It is a 5K run/walk where the winners earn a handcrafted medallion. Dance competitions for all ages include northern and southern traditional, fancy, grass and chicken dance.
With the prominence established by the pow wow, has Native enrollment increased at the Bay Area university?
“I think it has definitely helped. Since we hold the largest student-run powwow, prospective students are able to see how active and prominent the Native American community is at Stanford,” said Belgarde.
"The pow wow gives students a place to go and express their culture," added Cromack.