UCLA students host a powwow to challenge stereotypes

Jorge Rivas/Fusion

There was a rare sight on the UCLA campus this weekend: Dozens of Native American men and women dressed in full traditional regalia in and around the northern corner of the campus.

Dominique Lombardi, 22, is the 2015 Ms. UCLA Powwow. Lombardi is wanaikik Cahuilla from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. (Jorge Rivas/Fusion)

The UCLA American Indian Student Association organized the powwow to remind non-native students that American Indians are indeed on campus. The group’s members said the celebration of native culture was meant to build a bridge between American Indians and UCLA students.

They want to challenge stereotypes, like the recent controversial portrayals of Native Americans in a Netflix project currently in production that depicted them as drunks.

“[Visitors will] meet Native Americans and see that we’re not what the media makes us out to be—Indians with a bow and arrow or a stupid drunk on the reservation,” said Kenneth Ramos, project director of the Retention of American Indians Now! program, a university-funded initiative that works to keep Native American students at UCLA.

Kenneth Ramos is the former president of the American Indian Student Association at UCLA, which organizes the powwow. Ramos is a member of the Barona Band of Mission Indians living near San Diego, California. (Photo: Jorge Rivas/Fusion)

“The way that media presents Native Americans and perpetuate stereotypes, it’s really damaging to our community, and this event helps demystify those stereotypes,” said Ramos, who graduated from UCLA in 2013.

The student-led group estimates the powwow saw some 5,000 visitors throughout the weekend. And by inviting outside Native American dancers the students say they hope young people that attend the event on campus can envision themselves as UCLA students one day.

Kevin Hale, who is Navajo, is a third year sociology major. He’s 52 and says he’s gives his 6-year-old daughter a tour of campus from time to time. His brother Phillip Hale organized the first annual UCLA powwow 30 years ago.
(Jorge Rivas/Fusion)

There are about 43,000 students at UCLA, but only 221 of them are Native Americans—and half of them enrolled last year, according to the UCLA office of Academic Planning and Budget.


UCLA receives more freshman admission applications than any other school in the U.S., more than 100,000 last year alone. But only 110 incoming freshmen that year identified as American Indian or Alaskan Natives enrolled in 2014.

According to the 2010 Census, 5.2 million people in the United States identified as American Indian and Alaska Native.

The male contestants wait in front of the judges as they deliberate. (Jorge Rivas/Fusion)

Enrollment rates for Native Americans in post-secondary institutions have gone up in the past decades, but it’s been a slow path. There were 102,800 Native American enrolled in degree granting institution in 1990; that number increased to 172,900 in 2012. African-Americans more than doubled their enrollment rates in the same period, according to the according to the Digest of Education Statistics.


UCLA, along with the American Indian Student Association (AISA), is trying to change that by offering a number of resources including tutoring in high schools and inviting every single student accepted to the university to visit the campus.

AISA also organizes the 2015 Ms. UCLA Powwow pageant contest each year. Contestants have to be enrolled in a university and be able to represent the UCLA powwow at other Native American events across the country.

Dominique Lombardi, 22, is not a UCLA student but has promised to represent the school at powwows across the country. Lombardi is wanaikik Cahuilla from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. (Jorge Rivas/Fusion)

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