Student Profile: Aja Two Crows
Stanford senior launches BLC podcast
Since joining Stanford, Aja Two Crows ’21 has found a new appreciation for the American West and its indigenous communities. Now, she’s co-producing a new podcast about modern Native American experiences.
By Alex Kekauoha
Aja Two Crows’s Native American tribe, Bitterroot Salish, comes from a rural community in Montana, a world away from her hometown of Los Angeles, California. When it came time to find the right college, she looked for a school where she could connect with indigenous communities.
“I really wanted to go to a school where I could involve myself in native affairs because there are not a lot of native people in L.A.,” Two Crows said, adding that she also was drawn to Stanford for the academic flexibility and resources.
“At Stanford, you can make [your academic experience] what you want it to be and people are there to support you along the way,” she said.
At Stanford, Two Crows has been an active member of the Native American community. She also has participated in numerous programs and opportunities through the Bill Lane Center for the American West (BLC) that helped her expand her understanding of the Western United States and how Native American communities exist within it today.
Now, Two Crows is channeling what she’s learned from those experiences into a new podcast through the BLC called “Portraits of a Pandemic,” which premiered Nov. 6. It’s an in-depth look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native American communities and how they are responding and adapting to the crisis.
Exploring the West
Even before participating in BLC programs, Two Crows said that she always identified the American West with indigenous people.
“I think of the West as Indian country,” Two Crows said. “Most of the larger reservations are in the West and it has been where native people have been purposefully settled.”
At Stanford, Two Crows has sought out opportunities to learn more about Western lands and the often contentious disagreements over how they’re used. In 2018, she enrolled in the BLC’s Sophomore College course Fighting Over Our Common Heritage: Public Lands in the West, taught by professors Bruce Cain and Barton “Buzz” Thompson. The course studied Americans’ conflicting arguments over the best uses and management of public lands, such as national parks and wildlife refuges. Perhaps the highlight of the class was the opportunity to travel to Utah to visit key public lands such as Zion National Park and Goblin Valley. During the trip, students met with government officials and stakeholders on all sides of land-use issues and conflicts. Two Crows said the entire experience broadened her understanding of the West and why various interests have conflicting ideas about land usage.
“Before we went to Utah, I expected to never have to go to Utah,” Two Crows said. “But it’s definitely given me a really big appreciation for the West and an appreciation for the people who are fighting over it.”
Two Crows detailed the experience in a blog post for the BLC.
Two Crows said that being involved with the BLC has also helped her network and find new opportunities. On the Utah trip, she met Stanford Lecturer Patrick Shea, for whom she would later work as a teaching assistant for the course What is Public About Public Lands – Who and How to Manage. Much of her teaching focused on contemporary land use issues and the perspectives of women and people of color.
In 2019, Two Crows also traveled to Washington state to complete a summer internship at the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit organization that provides basic resources, such as housing and legal assistance, to Native Americans. The role was sponsored by Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service.
Launching a podcast
After two years of expanding on her understanding of native communities and the West, Two Crows is now bringing all that she’s learned to a new creative project at the BLC.
With support from the BLC and Stanford’s Native American Community Center, Two Crows has teamed up with Stanford junior Hannah Kelley to create the podcast “Portraits of a Pandemic.” The program discusses how native communities have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, Kelley will be discussing telehealth initiatives in the Navajo Nation, and Two Crows will focus on natives in the city of Seattle who are struggling with homelessness and addiction.
“We’re talking about personal innovation and how these people are getting through this crisis, especially as people who are incredibly disadvantaged in our society,” she said, adding that the project is an example of the academic freedom and opportunities that drew her to Stanford in the first place.
Reflecting on her time on the Farm, Two Crows said her best advice to other students considering Stanford or BLC programs is to learn as much as they can and step outside of their academic and intellectual comfort zones.
“When I took that Sophomore College class, I did not think that I would be working at the BLC this long, or that public lands was going to be a fascinating topic, which it totally is!” she said. “Take academic chances and learn about things that you don’t have the opportunity to learn about anywhere else.”