Native American Student Assembly celebrates past and future with second annual Popup Powwow

Attendees gathered to dance and reconnect with their Native American heritage.

 Students and other members of the Native American community from all over participated in the Native American Student Assembly’s annual Popup Powwow, including Native American students from UCLA. (Lauren Kim / Daily Trojan)

Merely two years ago, the Native American Student Assembly existed in the form of a five-person Zoom call. This Saturday at 1 pm, NASA — now a cultural organization recognized by USG since 2020 — hosted its second annual Popup Powwow. 

More than 20 members were seen on the Great Lawn at USC Village celebrating Native American legacy and culture in a traditional ceremony characterized by colorful regalia, dances and singing.

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Powwows originated from Indigenous warrior communities of the Southern and Northern plains. Contemporary Indigenous peoples come together to honor centuries-long traditions, rekindle friendships and pass down ritualistic practices to future generations. 

Daniel Williams, NASA’s co-executive director, said he noticed the sense of community and the power of spreading word amongst individuals. As a part of the Navajo Nation and Lakota Sioux, Williams said he is appreciative of people being mindful that NASA’s powwow is entirely student-run and a learning process for all of its members. 

“As students, just having the initiative to want to continue to promote cultural events speaks out a lot to [the Native American participants],” said Williams, a junior majoring in non-governmental organizations and social change. “It just shows that we’re interested to learn and we’re more open to them teaching us.”

Aligning with the values of powwows, the reconnecting of relationships took place as past members of NASA attended the ceremony in celebration of not only Native American heritage but also the organization’s growth. 

Paris Wise, a USC alum who graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, said that they were excited to see the students with whom they were in school and NASA because their peers helped them feel a sense of belonging at USC. 

“It’s cool to see new faces, too, because they’re incoming Native [American] students who have never met before, and it’s really exciting to see how NASA has grown,” Wise said. “Seeing them do this powwow after I graduated, I’m so excited to see what they’ve accomplished.”

Wise said they were amazed by NASA’s independence and immense growth, especially since it was a small group not officially incorporated into USG when they transferred to USC in 2020. Similarly, Dylan Goodwill, NASA’s faculty advisor and a senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions, said she was thrilled to see the number of people that had gathered for NASA’s second annual powwow.

“My biggest happiness from today is that we actually ran out of the folding chairs that we had requested,” Goodwill said. “The crowd it has drawn has made me so happy because the community went past just L.A. We’ve had people coming in from the Bay Area. We have other people coming from different states to come hang out with us.” 

Saturday’s powwow not only brought together people from all over the country but also allowed students to put their passion for school rivalries behind them. Native American members from UCLA’s American Indian Student Association attended NASA’s powwow in a show of support. 

Cisco Martinez, president of AISA, said it was his first time at NASA’s annual powwow and that he thoroughly enjoyed it. Martinez said events celebrating Native American heritage were of vital importance.

“Generationally, our youth were discouraged from dancing,” said Martinez, a sophomore majoring in sociology. “Being able to see the young ones dance really shows hope for the future generations to come to relearn those traditions.” 

In a similar light, Goodwill said NASA would “love” more attention from USC to be able to spread knowledge across the University’s community. Goodwill said she is proud of the student body’s diversity and hopes students continue to learn about Indigenous peoples from not only classrooms but also their peers. 

“[The University needs] to support us and also know that we sometimes don’t need allies as much as we want to speak for ourselves,” Goodwill said. “You could fund us and be a partner with us, but let us take the lead because we don’t need people fighting for us. We’re fighting already.”

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