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Stanford Stories From the Archives

Stanford Lands

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The Stanford University campus, comprising over 8,100 acres, was once home to a large population of Muwekma-Ohlone Indians, estimated to number 10,000 individuals in small communities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The arrival of Spanish soldiers and missionaries in the late 18th century, and the closing of Spanish missions after the U.S. annexation of California in 1846, devastated and scattered the native population. By the time Leland Stanford purchased his stock farm in 1876, few members of these communities remained in the area.

Stanford has not always been a welcoming place for Native American students. The university’s first graduate of native heritage was John Milton Oskison (Cherokee, class of 1898). In 1930, the Indian profile image was established as the mascot for Stanford’s athletic teams; 1937 marked its first appearance as a caricature. By the late 1960s, the student body included fewer than 10 Native students.

In 1970, empowered by national events including the Native American takeover of Alcatraz, four Native students petitioned to form the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO). SAIO’s first order of business was campaigning to remove the Indian mascot, which it succeeded in doing in 1972.

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In 1971, to provide a more accurate representation of the diversity of Native American cultures, SAIO hosted the first annual Stanford Powwow, a three-day event that brings Native dancers and drummers from all over the western states to campus each spring. In 1974, the Native American Cultural Center was established to provide support and community for Native American community members. Classes in Native American studies were first offered in 1992. In 1997, Native American Studies became established as part of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). Today, there are more than 325 undergraduate and graduate students representing more than 50 tribes studying at Stanford.

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Few examples of the shifting nature of land use in Northern California, especially from the perspective of the Stanford student, stand out like the 1,200 acres that comprise the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, adjacent to the Stanford campus. Over the course of just over a century, this land was transformed from a romantic destination for leisure and recreation into a world class center for conservation supporting a variety of scientific field research.

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Stanford archaeologists have excavated the area, which is located in the middle elevations of the San Francisquito Creek watershed, and found evidence that it was once home to a sizeable community of Muwekma-Ohlone Indians.

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After Leland Stanford began to acquire the land in the 1880s, Jasper Ridge served as a water source for the campus, and became an open recreational area for hiking, swimming, camping, and horseback riding. Faculty and students also quickly took note of the land’s potential for supporting research. By the 1960s, it became increasingly clear that recreational activities threatened the preserve’s research value, and in 1973, the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve was designated for research use only. Today the Preserve supports research across a variety of disciplines.

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University Land Use Policy/Plan (Livingston & Blayney Report), 1971