For nearly 50 years, the annual Stanford Powwow has drawn tens of thousands of Native Americans from all over the continent to the university. It’s the largest student-run powwow in the country and one of the largest cultural gatherings of Native American peoples on the west coast, according to the Stanford American Indian Organization and the Stanford Powwow Planning Committee, which organizes the event.
People of all tribal backgrounds, as well as curious and admiring onlookers, come to dance, pray, eat, and reconnect with friends. This year, they also came to talk politics: Stanford Powwow organizers established a theme for the event -- "Water is Life" -- with a nod to the people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.
On Sunday, the organizers awarded special honors to these “Water Protectors,” who got to take their own turn around the circle at Stanford's Eucalyptus Grove as an appreciative crowd applauded.
"Just because things didn't turn out how we wanted to, you know, up in the Dakotas, doesn't mean that it's over," said Emma Robbins, a Navajo tribe member from Los Angeles. "The fight is everywhere." At the powwow, she wore a T-shirt she screen printed herself with the slogan “Standing Rock is Everywhere.”
Robbins said people still don't yet know where the fight is going next. "It’s taking a couple of months, and maybe even years, to digest what happened, and how to move forward," Robbins said. "You know, obviously, with the new administration, things aren’t as easy, so it’s sort of going back to the drawing board and figuring that out."
Robbins attended the powwow as a representative of Dig Deep, a non-profit that is fighting for clean drinking water as a human right.
Dan Nanamkin of the Nez Pearce and Colville tribes from Washington State is engaged in the same struggle. "It's everybody's fight, because we all depend on clean drinking water to sustain our life," Nanamkin said.
Photographs in the media of Nanamkin standing in full tribal regalia in front of police officers in riot gear were some of the most iconic from the months of protest at Standing Rock.
Although the protests didn’t prevent the pipeline from going ahead, Nanamkin said they galvanized Native Americans to continue the fight. "Standing Rock has only started," Nanamkin said. "That fire, you know, it’s spread throughout the country and it’s woken a lot of us up!"