San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

SDSU helps keep cultural traditions alive with 52nd Annual Powwow

The yearly event brings the San Diego Native American community together to celebrate their diverse identities
Naiima Paul
Dancers perform at the annual Powwow

On April 13,  San Diego State held its 52nd Annual Powwow. The Native Resource Center hosted the event in partnership with the SDSU American Indian Studies Department, the Native American Student Alliance and the American Indian Alumni Chapter of SDSU.

The celebration provides a space for local Native American communities to celebrate their unique tribal identities while finding solidarity in their shared cultural experiences. The event is free and open to the public, inviting people from all backgrounds to appreciate the beauty and diversity of local tribes.

With the event starting at 11 a.m., there was a full day of ceremonies including honorings and blessings, celebrating different Native American traditions. With dancers, drum circles and bird songs, there was never a dull moment. 

The event offered a number of food vendors and booths, allowing guests to support Native businesses. Attendees enjoyed Indian street tacos and frybread while browsing through the variety of available products, including jewelry, clothing, dreamcatchers, homemade organic products and more. 

The annual event was originally founded by the Native American Student Alliance and has become a staple for the Native community on and around SDSU. The Native Resource Center has been a partner in the event since 2019, adding to its array of events spotlighting Native culture.

Each participant in the ceremonies had vibrant regalia that represented their unique tribal identity.  Harmony SweetGrass, the current Miss Kumeyaay Nation, participated in Grand Entry and spoke as an ambassador to her nation. Her regalia included a ribbon skirt, beaded moccasins, abalone shell jewelry and a white crown that incorporated imagery significant to the Kumeyaay people.

“I am representing my people as SDSU sits on Kumeyaay territory,” SweetGrass said. “So it’s very important for me to be here and represent my nation.”

She acknowledged the importance of events like the Powwow in providing a time to celebrate the ongoing presence of Native.

“I think the work is never done not just in this space, but in all types of spaces,” she said. “But that’s why I think it’s so often to even have events like this here to open that door to continue to learn.”

SweetGrass appreciated the unity of the Indigenous San Diego population and the diversity of different tribal identities.

“I think a lot of people think that all Indigenous people, specifically Native Americans, are the same and I think that’s something that is a very big misconception,” she said. “Each tribe is completely different.”

Distinguished members of local tribes spent the day participating in and watching different ceremonies. The vibrant displays set to a drum circle kept up the feeling of liveliness and joy for the hours of performance.

Running the event took a number of volunteers, including students like Vanessa Hernandez, a fourth-year psychology major  and student mentor in the Elymash Yuuchaap program. Hernandez was excited to discuss the importance of the Powwow and the valuable contributions the NRC has provided at school. 

“(The Powwow) was started by students because they knew that we needed a platform and more space on campus,” shesaid. “And it demonstrates how student work on campus can really make a difference.”

Hernandez and other student volunteers from the NRC provide the support that allows events like the Powwow to happen. She cited her involvement with the center as an integral part of her success at SDSU.

“The Native Resource Center has been really huge to me,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of become my home away from home on campus.”

The NRC continues to provide programs for students to become further involved with the on-campus Native American community. After two years of student involvement in the Elymash Yuuchaap, Hernandez decided to come back as a mentor where she helps provide support and resources to younger students. Her experience illustrates the importance of the services provided by the NRC for Native students at SDSU. 

“I was really just welcomed into the center and the community immediately,” she said. “I just felt at home. So it was really great. Just having the support of another Native student on campus, I  think is really important because there’s not that many of us so we’re trying to build up that community and the Native Resource Center has really been a hub for that.” 

NRC director, Chris Medellin, helped to plan the event. On top of his mentorship role to students, he conducts research on topics including Native American identity formation, issues of access to higher education and decolonization methodologies. 

Medellin has seen many of the past Powwows and the consistency of the communities that show up to them.

The SDSU Powwow is well known as it is one of the oldest college-operated powwows in the state and folks from all over want to support this event,” Medellin said. 

Medellin also serves as the president of the American Indian Alumni chapter of San Diego State and is a founding member of the Native American and Indigenous Faculty Staff Association, as well as the Men of Color Alliance at SDSU. As an SDSU alum, his involvement with the event began before his career in higher education. 

He works with other members of the center to continuously provide resources and opportunities for Native students. He hopes that the work of the center will provide a place for people to feel comfortable in their Indigenous identities.

“I hope that folks find events and programs that the NRC has going on that resonate with them,” Medellin said. “I hope that people feel comfortable and accepted in the spaces that we create to learn about their own tribal backgrounds and to also share with others.”

As far as ways to continue to support Native American student presence, Hernandez wants people to know that their culture remains alive.

“We’re still here,” Hernandez said. “We’ve been here this whole time. Acknowledge that you’re on Kumeyaay land. And just be respectful and support our communities. Listen to Native voices.”

For more information on the NRC, click here.

About the Contributor
Naiima Paul, '24-25 Arts & Culture Editor
Naiima Paul is a fourth year JMS major with an emphasis in Media Studies and a minor in TFM with an emphasis in film. She began contributing to the publication in 2022 and officially joined the Arts & Culture Section of the Daily Aztec in 2023. She started by reviewing TV shows but branched out to cover events, especially related to cultural events. Outside of the Daily Aztec she’s also hosted a radio show called “Underqualified Overthinking” on KCR College Radio for almost 3 years. She’s a huge fan of movies and music of all genres, and always interested in discussing new entertainment news.