We are all one

We are all one
Jennifer Varenchik

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

So one of the on-line groups that I belong to is "Urban Indians". Someone posted a question about sense of community- does your city have it? Actually, I'm summing up their post extensively, but that's only because I went a little over board with my reply:

Los Angeles, CA- Urban Indian Scene

I would say that here in LA you can have a sense of community IF you know where to find it. I lived here for 2 years and couldn't find one Indian- no pow wows, sweats, pot lucks-nothing! Oh wait, I did see one in a Noah’s Bagels store, she was on her way to the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (I’m dating myself here), she was wearing a camp dress, looking very stereotypical Native. I was working behind the counter and didn’t get to ask her for the hook-up on where to go, etc.

I had always heard that LA had THE largest urban Indian population, and I wondered where all the Natives were. This was back in '94-'95, and I didn't have the internet, so maybe that had a lot to do with it. And then one day I came across info on the LA Indian health clinic, and before I knew it, I was plugged in!

LA is home to over 138,000 natives, however in a survey of the 3 major ndn orgs./ centers in LA County, when they totaled the amount of clients they each serviced, it only added up to 6,000 clients for all 3. Some of those might be counted more than once, because usually if you are signed up with one organization, you are registered with another as well. Anyways, that means roughly 132,000 are out there like I was, maybe disconnected, wondering where all the Indians are. Or even worse, not wondering. Not identifying with their culture and heritage, but rather assimilating into the mainstream culture.

But back to the question at hand, do we have a sense of community here in LA. For me it’s an overwhelming yes, yes, yes! I have worked for all 3 ndn orgs., and I have thrown myself into the community. But then again, I made the effort because I needed a sense of community, I searched it out.

What about those that are out there that may be disconnected, how do we reach them? One big barrier is funding for advertising. LA is so big, and we don’t all live in one place. There’s a Chinatown, a Koreatown, Little Italy, even the Russians have their ‘hood- but no “Native Village” or “Indian Town”. A program would have to put up a lot of billboards, bus bench ads and have a PSA run at key time, in order to really make an impact. Plus, the above mentioned tools would only reach a small population- currently a “pocket” or concentration of Natives is 150 or less. LA County is broken up into 8 sections, and the largest Indian population in one of those sections is 25,000, the smallest is 7,000. So for every 100 or so that would see the ad, maybe 1 Native would see it.

Another reason is there has yet to be an organized attempt between all the existing programs to come together, pull their resources and make a push to let LA know we are here, there are programs and service to help. Money is tight and programs are very territorial about their clients and collaboration - which is why I believe that working with youth is the best way to go. They aren’t bitter, they don’t care about the politics, they just want to hang out and meet other Native kids. This year, one of the groups that I volunteer with, United Native Youth LA (UNYLA), will be doing a big media push to get the word out about our group. UNYLA is a coalition of the youth groups from the 3 Native organizations, and they specifically work to build a better sense of community for LA’s Native youth. I believe that through our youth we can create a stronger sense of community for the next generation of LA urban Indians.

I guess for those of us that got the hook-up, that were lucky enough to get involved in the LA Native scene, we can say that we have a thriving community here. They tried to assimilate us with relocation, they deliberately placed us in neighborhoods that are great distances from one another, but we found each other. In fact, this is how I know we are a strong native community- people will drive miles and miles and fight the traffic (which sucks big time) just to attend events. We have an ndn basketball league, various youth programs, tribally specific groups (Navajo, Creek, Cherokee and O’odham), churches, pow wows, weekly sweats, American Indian Chamber of Commerce, NAC meetings, dance workshops and of course just plain old get togethers. At each one of these events, you can see Indians from all different nations coming from all different parts of LA County, just to spend a few hours together. You know, there is something about chillin’ with other Indians, especially here in the big city.

And while I got your ear (or, eye…ayyy!), I would just like to add that once we learn to put all the crap aside and come together as a people, we can start making some additional progress in this land of ours. Shooooot, one ethnic group was brought here against their will, yet a few hundred years later they dominate in sports, own their own cable channels, have their own radio stations, are serving in Congress or judges, they’re business tycoons and more. Yet we are here in our own land and we don’t have a TV station- what’s up with that? Here in California we can’t even get the casino tribes to come together to take a stand, or agree, with our current governor. Some tribes love Arnold, others are spending big bucks on commercials to speak out against him.

My people, my people, we gotta unite! We have to support one another. We have to love one another. Our ancestors did not die in vain for us to be petty about these things. They want us to come together and tell this country that we are still here!

So there you have it, a little more than just the LA Native Scene. I don’t know if anyone reads these things anyways, maybe it was just a good exercise in typing.

Comments, questions?