Entries in Cultural (15)


Indigenous and Inclusive: 46th Annual Stanford Powwow

The Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) and the Stanford Powwow Planning Committee hosted the 46th Annual Stanford Powwow on May 12-14, 2017. This "Student Reflections" video profiles several students involved in producing the event and the teamwork involved in hosting the largest student-run powwow in the nation. 
What strikes me about these bright students is their inclusive approach to celebrating and honoring indigenous cultures from around the world. Held annually on Mother's Day weekend, the Stanford Powwow honors our mothers and mother earth.  
Surrounded by the beauty of Stanford University Eucalyptus Grove, this annual event that reminds me of what makes Stanford so special to me the "intertribal" community of people. 
Congratulations to all the students who made this year's Stanford Powwow a success.
Video music: Intertribal Song by Black Lodge. 

Stanford Powwow: Water is Life

Original artwork by Jack Malotte and edited by Bernardo Velez.

As the largest of the college powwows, and one of the top 10 in the nationStanford University sees 10,000 visitors a day and 250 dancers for the annual Mother’s Day weekend event. This is the university’s 46th year hosting the event and it is entirely run by students who are part of the Stanford American Indian Organization, which was created in 1972 to abolish the “Stanford Indian” mascot.

The Stanford Powwow will be held in the Eucalyptus Grove at Galvez and Campus Drives.  All events are open to the public and overnight camping spaces are available. Donations for parking are welcome.

The Stanford Powwow begins on Friday, May 12 at 7:00 PM with the first Grand Entry of dancers and continues until 10:00 PM.  On Saturday, May 13, the 21st Annual Stanford Powwow Run, a 5K race and 1 mile youth run, will begin at 8:00 AM.  Registration for the run ends at 7:40 AM. Dancing will continue from noon until 10:00 PM.  On Sunday, May 14, dancing will continue from noon until 6:00 PM.  Also open throughout the three-day event are more than 100 arts and crafts, souvenir, information, and food booths. As a celebration of sobriety, no drugs or alcohol are allowed.

As a proud alumnus of Stanford's Native American Cultural Center, I look forward to this annual event and hope to see you there!


Save the Arctic Refuge

Local Alaskans speak about why it's critical to preserve the Arctic Refuge as designated wilderness.


Alcatraz Occupation Honored at Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering

Photo credit: Alison Taggart-Barone/National Park Service

The annual Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering at Alcatraz Island was held today to commemorate the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz.

There are typically two such services each year on Indigenous People's Day (a reclaimation of Columbus Day) and Thanksgiving. However, this year the first observance was cancelled due to the federal government shutdown, which closed the island to all visitors. Unfortunately, it was the first time that this event was cancelled in nearly 30 years. 

Held annually since 1975, the Alcatraz ceremony honors the protest events of 1969-1971 when the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement (ARPM) occupied the island. Currently, the annual ceremony is organized by the International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Contemporary Arts.

I've attended this ceremony every year since I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004. Each year, I choose to celebrate thankful giving and refute thankless taking. While many American Indians outright protest the holiday, I prefer to take the time to focus on my own perspecitve of gratitude and giving values that are fundamentally inherent in my personal and professional work in philanthropy.

Checkout this slideshow of images from this morning that I took on my iPhone and happy holidays to all!


San Francisco American Indian Film Festival

I discovered this song at the opening weekend of the San Francisco American Indian Film Festival. Inez Jasper is a Canadian artist who explains that the video was filmed at her home and on her reservation, expressing self-determination in spite of a long tradition of surpressing the culture and traditions of Canada's native peoples. She's not just talking about social descrimination-- she sings to real Canadian policies and laws that forbid cultural expression under threat of arrest for decades. 

UPDATE (11/10/2013): Jasper won the award for Best Music Video. Congratulations!

A clip of the song and video promote the 38th Annual San Francisco American Indian Film Festival, which opened this weekend and runs through November 10th. The festival is held by the American Indian Film Institute (AIFI), a media arts nonprofit organization established in 1979 to foster understanding of the culture, traditions and issues of contemporary Native Americans through film.

One of the films I had the great pleasure of viewing was produced, written, edited, and directed by a colleage from NatureBridge, Miho Aida, founder of the If She Can Do It, You Can Too Project. Her film, The Sacred Place Where Life Begins, documents  Gwich’in women from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

She explains that the area is a birthing and nursing ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, on which the Gwich’in people who are native to this region have depended for millennia. In their language, they call this land “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins“ and since 1986, has been threatened by oil and gas development. In the film, Gwich’in women speak out for their sacred land and inspire audiences around the world to action.

One of the great things about watching the film at the festival was that Miho was able to speak at a Q&A session after the film. She shared that the entire film was made on a flip camera and iMove on her MacBook-- "Not even a MacBook Pro," she emphasized. It's encouaging to see her sharing an important message and reminding us that, if she can do it, maybe we can too?

Watch the trailer below, but also be sure to buy a copy of the DVD to see the full film, catch a screening, and most importantly, take action!


How the Moon Made Me by Lucia Comnes

My good friend Lucia Comnes recently released her latest single and music video, How the Moon Made MeI was proud to support the project's Kickstarter Campaign, which was a fun way to stay updated on its progress and to hear from Lucia about the process. The end result was a beautiful collaboration, notably involving Aaron Proctor, who also helped create her last music video (which I absolutely loved!). 

Lucia is an American singer, songwriter and violinist with a singular voice releasing acoustic music set in an atmospheric, captivating landscape.  A San Francisco native with a rich background in performance, travel and ethnomusicology, her focus has been Irish/Celtic, Balkan/Eastern European and American folk music. She recently accompanied Joan Baez on violin for a series of concerts with French singer, Marianne Aya Omac

She also recently played America the Beautiful at the opening of the Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers at Coliseum in Oakland. Congratulations, Lucia!


2012: Year of the American Indian Summer

In most years, an “Indian Summer” describes a heat wave that occurs in the autumn that occurs in the Northern Hemisphere between late September and mid-November. In 2012, however, it could be argued that “Indian Summer” now means something more similar to the “Arab Spring” uprisings that arose independently and spread across the Arab world in 2011.

The “American Indian Summer” wasn’t similar to the “Arab Spring” in that it involved expressions of violence within revolutionary conflicts, but it was similar in its effective use of new media technologies in a variety of coordinated social movements.

2012: the year the American Indian Movement effectively used digital, mobile, and social media technologies.

It’s about time.

Researchers have noted the “digital divide” – inequalities in access to information and communication technologies, as well as inequalities in the knowledge and skills needed to effectively use the information gained from connecting. No doubt, there are geographic and generational barriers to connectivity in American Indian communities, complicating social fragmentation and other disparities.

However, recent events suggest that the American Indian Movement is dramatically different in the 21st Century: it’s no longer institutional, protected by trademarks, or governed by a Grand Council.

Now, it's that and it's digital, mobile, and social. It's open source and open to all!

Take, for example, the creative mobilizing efforts of the “Save Pe’sla” movement. Artists, celebrities, tribes, and people from many other social spheres, came together to purchase the sacred site by using various digital media projects, such as this video, spread via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms, most of which centered around the "Last Real Indians" website by Chase Iron Eyes.   

Or, how artist Aaron Huey raised awareness of the Lakota fight to claim the Black Hills in South Dakota, demanding that the government start Honoring the Treaties. He did so though a book, documentary filmTed Talk, mural project, and website, to name a few of his strategies.

Or even more recently, the #IdleNoMore movement in Canada has rallied behind a collection of digital, mobile, and social strategies that include a tweeted hashtag meme, flash mobs, and website – all mixed with traditional protest methods of road blocks, marches, and even a very real, human hunger strike – inspired by assertion that if "Aboriginal people did not speak out it would mean they "comply with [their] silence" on the most important issues to indigenous communities. The movement has grown to broaden the conversation, calling for treaty recognition, tribal self-determination, and policy reformation, among other important areas.

I see these movements as the product of very real contributing factors, including:

  • Policy: The 2009 passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama early in his administration.  A portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act designated approximately $7.2 billion in investments to expand broadband access nationwide, improve high-speed connectivity in rural areas and public computer centers, and increase Internet capacity in schools, libraries, public safety offices, and other public buildings.
  • Philanthropy:  people today - particularly social entrepreneurs and innovators - see that the commons can be more creative and nimble than political change via government policies, or developing solutions based on markets and profit margins. The Save Pe’ Sla movement was ultimately a fundraiser, for example.
  • Technology: hardware and software have dramatically improved as our phones have become smarter, increasingly light and mobile, and easier to use. The above referenced examples provide evidence to suggest that websites and widgets are dramatically improving creative connectivity through devices that are increasingly common and relatively affordable.  For example, I learned about Aaron Huey’s Documentary Video and TedTalk from a friend at a barbecue, later watched both on YouTube on my iPad and then promptly downloaded the digital illustration he used on his mural as my new desktop wallpaper.
  • Society: it’s clear that people now see the adoption of digital, mobile, and social media technologies as standard tools in our mobilization kit. People can and do use a mix of basic mobile devices, such as Androids and iPhones, basic social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to produce basic  digital with content such as images and videos, all delivered through basic digital media platforms such as YouTube and  Flickr. We consider the insights of bloggers and “posters” of all kinds, from status updates to manifestos. You can follow the hunger strike in your news feed.

Welcome to 2013 – join me in watching what will come in the year ahead for the new American Indian Movement and the digitization, mobilization, socialization of media from indigenous communities across the globe.

I'm reminded that these recent events all began after the Return of Pté San Wi, the White Buffalo Calf Woman in July. Could these events be the dawning of the Age of Illumination, the age when mankind walks upright and once again remembers his true relationship with Creator? In the words of Black Elk, "...the yellow for the south, whencer come the summer and the power to grow.


Sioux Save Pe'Sla

Joint Press Release:

Rosebud Sioux Tribe
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe
Contact: President Scott, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, (605) 747-2381


Historic Reacquisition of “Pe-Sla Sacred Site” Was Signed Today

(RAPID CITY, SD) - The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community gathered in a historic assembly of related Tribes to reacquire the sacred site, Pe Sla. Pe Sla is sacred because it is related to the Lakota Creation, is the site of annual ceremonies, and historically, hosted many village gatherings. Black Elk, the Lakota visionary, sought his vision at Pe Sla.

Pe Sla is a high mountain prairie in the Heart of the Black Hills, just north of Deerfield Lake and west of Harney Peak. Historically, Pe Sla and the entire Black Hills was protected by the 1868 and 1851 Sioux Nation treaties. The United States violated those treaties and took the Black Hills in violation of the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. So, today, the reacquisition is a healing and historic event for the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

The Tribes will work together to form an Oceti Sakowin Sacred Lands Protection Commission to protect Pe Sla and preserve the sacred site for traditional and cultural ceremonies in a pristine state for our future generations.

President Scott, Chairman Vig and Chairman Sazue issued a joint statement, “Today, we are grateful to stand together before the Creator to help heal our people through reclaiming one of our most sacred sites.”

“We did not wait for the United States to deal with us justly on our Black Hills rights. We acted now, exercising our inherent sovereign authority to protect this most sacred site. We must perpetuate our way of life for our future generations.”

“We thank the members of the public that donated to the cause of justice for our people. Now, we are more determined than ever that the United States must provide justice to our people and honor our treaties.”

“We thank the Reynolds family for working with us in our reacquisition of Pe Sla as a sacred site for the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people.”

Indians Welcome

Each year on Thanksgiving, the International Indian Treaty Council presents the Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Sunrise Gatheringm, giving thanks to the Creator for our survival and spirit of resistance. The group is an organization of Indigenous Peoples from North, Central, South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific working for the Sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition and protection of Indigenous Rights, Treaties, Traditional Cultures and Sacred Lands.

And while Thanksgiving brings to mind stories of interconnected American heritage traditions, on Alcatraz Island, I remember the American Indian Movement and its occupation of the island.

Beginning on November 20, 1969, a group of Native Americans called United Indians of All Tribes, mostly college students from San Francisco, occupied the island to protest federal policies related to American Indians.

The occupiers, who stayed on the island for nearly two years, demanded the island's facilities be adapted and new structures built for an Indian education center, ecology center and cultural center. The American Indians claimed the island by provisions of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux; they said the treaty promised to return all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal lands to the Native peoples from whom it was acquired.

Occupiers then claimed Alcatraz Island by the "Right of Discovery", as indigenous peoples knew it thousands of years before any Europeans had come to North America. Begun by urban Indians of San Francisco, the occupation attracted other American Indians from across the country, including American Indian Movement (AIM) urban activists from Minneapolis.

During the occupation, which lasted the 19 months and 9 days, President Richard Nixon rescinded the Indian termination policy, designed by earlier administrations to end federal recognition of tribes and their special relationship with the US government. He established a new policy of self-determination, in part as a result of the publicity and awareness created by the occupation. The occupation ended on June 11, 1971.

In 2011, a permanent multimedia exhibit opened on Alcatraz examining the 19-month occupation. Located in the former band practice room in a cellblock in the basement, the space serves as the cultural center the American Indian occupiers requested upon their occupation. The exhibit, "We Are Still Here," features photos, videos and sound recordings. Curators of the exhibit interviewed descendants of occupation and others who participated.

As we share and enjoy the harvest on Thanksgiving, it's imporant to pay respect and think about the broader context of our blessings by paying attention to the trials and injustices of many that continue today.  These stories definitely give us food for thought, with or without the gravy.


Protect Pe'Sla Lakota Sioux Sacred Site

Artist Shepard Fairey and photographer Aaron Huey created this image in reference to the U.S. government's policy of ignoring the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.Not long ago I wrote a post, Vistory at Pe'Sla, about how Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney in South Dakota, wrote an article on to raise money to purchase Pe'Sla, a sacred site in the Black Hills. At the time, it seemed like a true success story about a group of young, professional, 21st Century American Indians reclaiming our land through grassroots activism.

Sadly, the victory call was too good to be true. For now.

According to The Washington Post, the land holds sacred significance for the Lakotas: "The property is important to their creation story, and tribal members have long held ceremonies there. When the land was put up for sale, tribal members worried it would be developed because of its proximity to Mount Rushmore."

This area is partly owned by the Reynolds family. They planned to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. According to The Washington Post, "Landowners Leonard and Margaret Reynolds canceled a public auction of the property earlier this year after tribal members expressed outrage. The Reynolds then accepted the tribes’ bid to purchase the land for $9 million if they have the money by November 30, 2012."

The Great Sioux Nation must raise $9 million to purchase the land by November 30, 2012, securing it as a sacred, undeveloped site, accessible to all. They've raised $6.5million and with the help of a number of influential celebrities, are on track to get the rest. Spread this video far and wide. Donate and get more info at and

This is what the American Indian Movement looks like in the 21st Century. Digital media, social media, and traditional media are spreading the message: NOW is the time to act! Hoka hey!

PE'SLA 2012 from Village Beat on Vimeo.