Challenges of Urban Native Millennials – Part 1

PREMISE:

American Indians have not vanished from this country, nor do they simply exist in a nostalgic or romantic sense. No ethnic group is increasing in population as fast as Native Americans. Over four million American Indians residing in the United States represent 601 tribal groups. This project will help Native readers to visualize, through the eyes of other Natives, some of the challenges of urban transitioning today and offer solutions to this transition.

Beginning with the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Cherokee, Seminoles, Chickasaws and Creeks), the gradual migration pattern from the reservation to the city began to emerge. This effort began long before the reservation system was instituted. Interestingly, in the early 1800’s this migration was voluntary, not forced. Up until the 1980’s, it was usually considered a disgrace in most American families to admit that grandpa had married a “squaw”. The truth is that woodland tribes, such as the Cherokee, were a very beautiful, tall, graceful people who felt it was the will of the Great Spirit to intermarry with the Whites. Although most Whites of that era could not yet visualize the original aboriginal inhabitants of this country as true equals, many admired and respected these hardy people. The dainty Anglo women with their parasols and tea parties were not prime candidates for the wild, Wild West. It was safer to stay in the eastern cities than brave the unknown. However, what was mysterious to the White was loved and familiar to the Natives. Although the acculturation process has traditionally been slow, it has greatly accelerated in the past twenty years. This has greatly diminished fears of urban living for contemporary Native Americans.

Since 1980, the urban Native population has increased about 2% per year. The US Census Bureau has estimated that most Native Americans will live in cities by 2010. Hurting, confused, abused, discriminated against and even targeted by anti-Indian activists, the Indian has slipped into our cities almost incognito. Although the original Americans are coming to urban America, they are often treated as a sub-species. Victims of economic necessity, they have come to town, attracted like a moth to the fire—with the end result just as certain. They are coming to the cities, for if current migration patterns continue in Native America, most tribal land may be sold by the middle of this century. Most maps of Indian Territory in the 1930’s show little change from maps made a century before. However, the “shrinking Indian land” syndrome has continued at a rapidly increasing pace since the 1930’s. Today, Native Americans own less than 1% of the lower 48 states, including all reservation lands. Most of our reservations are isolated because Uncle Sam did not want Whites living to close to Indians. But today’s Native youth are, for the most part, uninhibited concerning travel. Television has made the USA a neighborhood. But it can be an unfriendly one for city Indians.

Urban Natives often congregate together in substandard housing and tend to bind together loosely, regardless of tribal affiliation. It is not unusual to see a myriad of tribes represented in one tenement building. Rapid social change requires changes in traditional Native culture and lifeways. For example, Native tenement housing is often by a city park which will permit pow-wows and ceremonial dances. Of the estimated 65,000 Indians in Chicago, almost 35,000 live near Lake Michigan by Indian Park, an area once known as “Indian turf” in Chicago land. Of the more than 120,000 Indians in the Los Angeles area, most reside in the “less desirable” parts of town. The Bureau of Indian affairs, with few Native Americans in its hierarchy, give this classic textbook reason why the population of Natives in urban areas is on the increase: “Economic conditions, combined with near cultural annihilation and the loss of identity, have prompted Native Americans to attempt to reestablish themselves in urban areas” (BIA pamphlet # 1701B, 1998).

The buffalo are gone. Most tribal traditions exist today only in ceremonialism. No longer are tribes nomadic. Native languages will not be spoken fluently in the new millennium. Though their children’s children will play on asphalt, they will adapt, as they have for centuries, and they will survive. Native Americans will always endure, for it is their foundational characteristic, but they will need to learn new survival skills in the city and must pick up the tools of the twenty-first century and build strong homes and families.

PURPOSE:

Because I am Cherokee born and raised in Kansas City, I have never experienced the challenges of urban acclimatization firsthand. Our family’s Native path began when my paternal grandfather married Martha, my grandmother, in Illinois. She died giving birth to her eighth child when she was thirty years of age. My father kept the Native spirit alive in our family as president of the Kansas City Archeological Society, working with other Native Americans from the Smithsonian Institute.

For the past twenty-one years, my wife and I have worked on a full time basis with other Native people from many different tribes. For fifteen of those years, I taught New Testament and ministerial studies at American Indian College in Phoenix. During these two decades, we estimate we have worked with students representing over eighty different tribal groups. Because of this long tenure, we have become well acquainted with the diverse cultural problems other American Indians wrestle with when they move to the city. My personal goal in this project is to help other Natives who experience cultural challenges as they adapt to urban life. I have learned that Native concerns are best addressed by other Natives; therefore all interviewees in this project are American Indians. It was, however, interesting to discover that few knew their percentage of Indian blood. This serves as additional verification of the increasing loss of tribal identity – another cultural impact of Native urbanization.

Most families seem to have begun their migration to the city when a family member “married out”; that is to say, married someone of another ethnicity. Moves by Natives to urban areas rarely occur just because someone arbitrarily decided to go. Almost without exception, the reason for the relocation was the betterment of the immediate and/or extended family. Although no interviewee was asked how old he/she was, it seemed evident that few deep-reservation Natives over the age of thirty moved to an urban area on impulse. Most interviewees, re-telling exploits of a relative who ventured to attempt city life too quickly, seemed to regard it a punitive expedition. 

PARTICIPATION AND PROCEDURE:

As a tenured Bible teacher in Native colleges, it has been my observation that most Natives would rather personally converse than write or type out their thoughts. Respecting this, live interviews were the only logical option. Most of the interviews were conducted with Native students attending local colleges and universities. Students usually have enough paperwork to deal with without being asked to answer questions and/or share personal information in writing. Although Native millennials may not be as shy as their ancestors, fears of exploitation and belittlement have been imbedded in them by their elders. An element of trust is gained seeing their answers and comments written down by the one asking the questions. Via this process, any suspicion of a hidden agenda tends to be eradicated.
 
Participants were urged to “tell their story” and to speak without fear of being judged or marked as a bad person based on their comments. Due to the general tendency inherent within most ethnicities to guard privacy, specific steps were taken to safeguard any and all comments which might negatively impact any individual, family, clan or tribe. Every participant was informed that their comments could be included as part of this project and appear on the World Wide Web. Therefore, interviewees comments contained herein were freely vouchsafed, based on the privacy policy of Native American Marriage Enhancement.

This project cannot be termed “a survey”. Participants were not burdened with paperwork, forms or the infamous “one-to-ten” rating charts. Paper trails were purposely avoided in order to seek more familiar Native paths of communication. Flyers announcing that participants were being sought for this project were distributed in Native neighborhoods and college dorms housing Native students.

Each person was asked to provide only the following information:
First and/or last name
Tribal affiliation
Place of birth
Current geographical location

Each participant was asked how much of this basic information could be attached to their comments. Their preference concerning this is reflected at the end of each of their interview summaries. Any information given by a participant which might lead to the identification of a specific interviewee has been systematically deleted. In some cases only a first name is given, along with their tribal affiliation. In other cases, geographical information was withheld at the interviewee’s request. Because the email process in general is unprotected worldwide, participants were asked to share in person if possible. Knowing the purpose of the interview made the choice to share their experiences a safe one; thus they shared freely. They were each informed that this was an on-line project with the specific goal of helping other Natives to adjust to urban life. 

It has been my experience that most Native people tend to reflect deeply before they speak. Therefore, the four key areas of discussion were listed in our flyer in order that potential participants could reflect on them prior to their interviews. My cell phone number was also listed in order for volunteers to set up interviews in a public place as their schedules permitted. Interviewees were asked to share openly as conversational variations of the four primary questions were asked. The atmosphere of every interview was relaxed and without pressure. Many interviews took place in student unions, libraries, classrooms and cafeterias. Interviewees were asked to share any web site information that might be helpful to Natives seeking urban adjustment and are included in their comments.
                                                                                                                             

PRIMARY QUESTIONS:

The main questions asked of each interviewee were selected as the four primary motivators that tend to drive Natives to cities. There are myriads of personal and familial related reasons, financial and employment opportunities, spiritual reasons and educational concerns. All participants were asked to offer solutions to dilemmas they faced in order to assist other migrating Natives. This primary objective was always in view. Often other questions related to the primary topic were asked in order to prompt response and/or to maintain focus. We did not seek standardized answers to our queries. Although more than fifty Natives took an active part in these interviews, comments used in this project were highly selective, based upon clarity of expression. Their comments appear in abbreviated, summary form.

The main categories, and related questions, are as follows:

Personal and Familial
What have been the major adjustment(s) in your personal life due to moving from the reservation to the city?
What has been your single greatest challenge in relocating in a metropolitan area?
What factors have impacted your family members the most?
What impact has your move made on those who have been left back on the reservation?
In what specific forms, if any, have you experienced racial discrimination?

Financial
What type of work do you seek/are you best at?
What job opportunities are open to you?
What challenges have confronted you concerning non-Native co-workers?
What is your financial picture now as compared to your prior financial picture on the reservation?

Spiritual
Describe your spiritual worldview today.
Have you found that attachments to tradition have loosened since your move to the city?
How has worship styles changed for you since you have relocated in the city?

Educational
Did educational pursuits factor into your decision to come to the city?
If so, what educational degree(s) are you seeking?
Do other family members have higher educational degrees?
Did a family member urge you to seek a degree?

In this project, Natives will tell their own stories generated from personal life experiences. Although comments may sometimes be condensed, the synopsis of each interviewee’s thoughts is faithfully preserved. Such condensations were approved by every participant after their interview. Although most interviewees commented on one or more of the four primary categories, only one was selected as the heart of their comments, and thus is listed under that category. Each participant was asked to provide suggestions, recommendations and web site domains that might be helpful to Natives transitioning from reservation to urban living. Such practical advice is usually listed in the closing comments of each interviewee providing such information. With the ground rules established, we let our People talk: 

Personal and Familial

“My people originally came to the Nunavut regions from Kalaalit Nunaat (Greenland). My father was told he must go to a special cardiac hospital in Quebec. He had to stay there for many months, away from his home he loved in Tikirarjuaq (Whale Cove). He grieved for family and home. We would bring him his favorite salted fish, but it made him sad he could not eat at the family table. From his hospital window, he could see some of the city life. He died. To this day our family believes…it was the city that killed him. We all think he died of a broken heart, not a cardiovascular problem.”
Stephen Kneevit, Inuksuit, Tikirarjuaq

“Today, since enrolled tribal members are eligible to receive a share of casino profits, there are many ‘wanna-be’s’. This is one reason why there has been an increase in tribal enrollment in the past decade. Many Natives, however, have a dual address. Although registered as living on the reservation (rez) they reside in the city for a lot of reasons. You think my kids know our history?
Well, they don’t. Columbus saw us as potential slaves and informed Queen Isabella he could provide as many Indian slaves as she wanted. Our Arawak and Carib brothers were enslaved by Columbus and his followers. European-introduced diseases, including sexually-transmitted ones, killed up to 90% of some of our northeastern tribes. Since most euro-diseases brought into Indian territories were by nature, foreign, we had no herbal cures for them. Nearly 9,000 Indians died in the New England plague (1616), yet our history books are strangely silent about these facts, just like the San Juan flue epidemic of 1918 which killed thousands of Natives. You know that when Columbus returned to Europe (1493), he had 1,500 Indian men on his ships, don’t you? It was not unusual in the 1600’s for Natives to be kidnapped by the English and sold as slaves in Spain. They were brought to their cities to serve the royalty. Those euro-Natives have lost all contact with their mother country and they don’t know who they really are…they have been so acculturated over so many generations and inter-marriages they have lost their tribal identities altogether…but this was how the Indian was first introduced to the cities. And they were cities on foreign soil.” 
Steven Crowghost; Ogalala

“We are Peoples of the past and the present, but with little future. 2005 means we have survived as a people since the White invasion of five hundred years ago. Although the days of overt genocide have passed, our urban brothers still face immense challenges. We have accepted the fact that our children’s children will grow up in the city. In the past fifteen years, the migration pattern, rez-to-the-city, is up twenty percent. Our identity as Natives, is in constant change. As you know, the reservation systems were created to disarm and keep us ‘in our place’. What was our ancestral crime? Self defense! Who are we today? We become harder to classify as our blood grows thinner. One more thing I would say: city living accelerates acculturation like mad. My advice to young Sioux is better themselves in town if they can, but look back over your shoulder to the rez once in a while. Don’t forget your roots. And there may be work available that young people are not aware of, so they should check under ‘employment’ at http://www.Sioux.org” 
Fenton Takonka, Standing Rock Sioux
South Dakota

“In school on the rez, reading about the early days and massacres like Wounded Knee (1890), we would get depressed. Since such atrocities, I think our people have never fully recovered. American citizenship was not granted to Native Americans until 1934 for real. Our children heard in their American History class in Phoenix that Indians were not allowed to vote in Arizona until around 1950. That was very few years ago and my mother remembers well the day she was able to vote for the first time. When she came to the city to cast her vote, she was so proud. She always said that was a great day, a real victory for Indian Rights. But one must carefully examine the U.S. Constitution to discover the one tiny reference to ‘Indian Rights’. Mainly they were wrongs done to us—anything but rights.

The education people at Window Rock (Navajo Nation) recommended we attend Northern Arizona University, so that’s how we ended up here. Our whole family moved down because we didn’t want to be split up. But we knew that education was valued so we came. My mother was the one we all look to in our clan. She is the one with the real ‘medicine’ (laughter). She is one Navajo who was not afraid to speak out*. She is like Wilma Mankiller (former Chief of the Cherokee Nation). She was not so outspoken when we lived on the rez. The city seemed to bring out the fire in her. I think it somehow made her angry at both the past and the current injustices. She is older now, but she has taught us that we are not defeated, despite what Kit Carson did to us. We are not without hope…in danger of becoming extinct…but we are changing, growing, surviving, despite the pressures of the dominant society in this crazy metro area, we remain uniquely Dineh. But I recommend, before moving to the city, kids get on http://www.Navajo.org click, on ‘Youth Opportunity Programs’ then ‘Placement Services’. Then see if it’s worth the move.” 
Lee Wilson, Navajo, Phoenix

*A recent article in “The American Indian Quarterly” (Summer/Fall 2003) by Nancy Jonovicek entitled, “Assisting Our Own” (p. 552) contains the following comment: “In the 1970’s, the Native Movement embraced indigenous cultures in defiance of the BIA policy of assimilation…the movement was salient particularly in urban settings where aboriginal people were removed from elders and ceremonies” (http://www.books.aisc.ucla.edu).

“To answer your question about family, I am happy to tell you. Let me say this first. Let’s go back awhile. We know about the Europeans and their methods of extermination in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Have your forgotten about the Russians who came to rape us (1760’s)? Don’t you know about the French who came to steal our furs (1600’s)? And the Spanish, with their lust for gold? The British with their lust for our land? The only Indian America ever loved was an Indian-headed nickel! The truth is, by 1776, all Indian tribes were considered irrelevant to the future of this country. My great-grandfather remembers being beaten up by our own people when he accused an Indian Agent of pilfering salt pork.* Coming to the big town was all we could do! Many of my relatives had all committed suicide. I was afraid if I stayed on the rez I’d die also.”
Paula MarieYellowHair, Rosebud Sioux, Grand Forks, ND

*Paula’s comment can be compared with one made in “The Sioux of the Rosebud” (Henry W. Hamilton and Jean Tyree Hamilton. Oklahoma City University of Oklahoma Press, 1971, p. 81) “The Indian police force at Rosebud was authorized in 1878. The men preserved order, arrested offenders, guarded the issuing of rations, protected government property and returned truant children to school.”

“It is no mystery why Native Americans often find it so difficult to adapt to urban life. Other ethnic groups tend to select the city and seek out the city to take advantage of the job market and social services. With Natives, it is often out of necessity. City life for me is too cosmic. Everyone is in a hurry. Where are all these people going? There are no clocks to punch in Apacheland. Compared to Apache standards, Anglos are hasty and presumptuous in social relations. Apaches joke about Anglos, until that Apache moves to the city and becomes just like them (laughter) …but my great ancestor Geronimo would not laugh at this, I think.

Our band (of Apache) sees the Whites as being very ignorant in social conduct.  In a typical Apache home, everyone always has plenty of time to speak, to think about what they are going to say or answer. Apaches consider it rude to repeat a question even if the answer doesn’t come right away. Aren’t carefully considered answers usually more reliable anyway? My second cousins, after moving to Denver, seem never to have a pause now in their conversations. This they learned from city people. They have forgotten that long pauses are normal, though considered abnormal by Anglo standards. Apaches usually speak to each other in soft tones and at a pace considered deliberate. No one is in a hurry to speak cause we are at ease with one another. Whites speak too fast and too tense! It sounds like they are angry and mad at you, but they are just being Anglos.”
Teddy Looma, Chiracowa Apache

“My tribe is small. Less than 500 members. Our little rez is in the swamplands of Florida. We are related to the Seminoles. Our tribal elders were afraid that our tribe might disband and be lost like so many other smaller tribes. So they met and decided that an enrolled Miccosukee must have at least 50% Indian blood to be on the tribal roles! This was only an attempt to keep us at home, to marry within the tribe. Bad strategy. Bad call. The sky every night is lit up by the bright lights of Miami. We all want to go there and party. Today, most of our young people marry outside the tribe. So what happens? Our blood gets thin and the decision of the elders works against our people. No one can stop us from leaving the swamp for the city. We want to go there. The city or the swamp: man, that’s some choice”. 
Raymond Matthews, Seminole, Miami

“My husband is missing and now three years later, we still do not know what happened to him. They found his car out in the desert, but never found his body or any trace of him. I moved to Albuquerque because at night I would hear his spirit out on the mesas calling to me. I thought the noise of the city would drown out his voice. It has, but not totally. I miss my mother and want her to move in with us here. She has a third-grade education, but went no further because of the horrible stories my grandma told her about the boarding schools. Although I was rez raised, I do not know the Dineh tongue very well. Our cultural differences are interesting. Mama does not drive a car nor does she know English very well. She sees herself as a survivor, not a victim. She talks little about the old days, for she knows it is not very important to us. The money she makes from (Navajo rug) weaving, she spends on her family. I can think of little things only that she ever bought for herself because her family always came first. In her prime, during about the ‘60’s, the census classified half a million Indians as ‘urban’. Today, most of our people are in the cities – perhaps three million or so. Mama has had a hard life on the rez. She faces her tomorrow with one eye on the past and the other on the future. But one thing we know. She will never move here to town. She’d die first.” (Interviewee recommended that newcomers visit the Albuquerque Indian Center at http://www.aboqndn.org
Waneta Lee, Dineh (Navajo)
Albuquerque, NM, 2005

“To get at the core of the question concerning what makes our Native people so different in the urban setting, I examine my heart. I do not discuss this often, because my brother was killed by police during a federal building takeover in the ‘70’s. We still have our pain. I will tell you this, that my family is from the extreme left wing of the AIM. (American Indian Movement). My mother and father were in on the takeover of Alcatraz island when our people captured it on November 20, 1969 and held it for a year and a half until many of our demands were met. I marched with my sisters and brothers in the re-enacted Long Walk of Wounded Knee in ‘73. Do you know what happened there some decades ago? One hundred and fifty Sioux were killed. Many were relatives of mine. I never knew my great-grandparents, for they were slaughtered there while fleeing for their lives. Five hundred soldiers surrounded them. Don’t you read history? Four Hotchkiss guns, firing 50 exploding rounds each minute, tore apart 84 men and 18 children. The rest were women. My great-grandma had 14 wounds in her body. We have done the math and we don’t forget them. Do my historical facts surprise you? They are burned into us. We know Wounded Knee was retaliation for Little Bighorn (June 25, 1876). Haven’t you ever wondered why the U.S. Cavalry was so anxious to practice genocide on us? I’ll tell you why. It was because Custer got his due on the year of America’s centennial, very close to the very day, July 4th. Sure, the USA won her independence from England…but we’ve never won ours from them. Now four generations later, the problem in young Native America is identity. The dominate society oppresses us and stifles us still. When people relocate, there are many ways to discover where they came from so that they do not lose tribal identity. People can go to http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indianlocation/htm But h.ow many bother to find out about their tribal elders and legacy?
Yancy Logg, PhD.
Cheyenne River Sioux
Rapid City, SD

“Since my parents were both killed instantly in an auto accident in 1998, I was orphaned. A man and his wife who had no children adopted me. I thought they were Mexicans, but soon found out otherwise. Having been raised on my reserve in Canada, I knew nothing of city life. Although I felt very much like a victim with nothing to say about my future, when we arrived at my new home in Manhattan, I found out different. My adopting family was Iroquois and had lived in the city for four generations. Their great grandfathers both had killed many white men in battles. Everything in our home evidenced Native heritage. Here I was still proud and free to be Indian. I soon learned many things, like to remember my bus pass and not be late. I never heard the word “Indian-time” in my home. I learned not to play in the street. I learned to lock our doors and not to go out much at night. I am fortunate and very blessed to have such a wonderful new family who made urban life easy for me. I want to make them proud of me. The city? I like it here. I recommend that young people visit the city several times before moving here permanently. In this way, they can better adjust, rather than just making a sudden move.”
Loretta Miller, Mohawk, Yonkers, NY

“Migrating from the rez to the city was culture shock for me. When I came to the city to go to college, I came from a place where everybody knew everybody else and everybody knew everything about everybody else to a place where no one cares who you are. On the rez, other kids’ parents helped to correct other people’s children. Everybody knew you and your family. There were lots of family celebrations and ceremonies. In the city, you have to pay for celebrations and activities of any kind. Moving to the city was a fearful thing. When I was a kid in Neah Bay, (Makah Reservation, Washington state), there was not even one stop light. But there was crime in the city, lots of traffic, lots of signs…and I was very bad on directions. I would advise other Natives who are moving to the city not to give up and go back to the rez because of fear. Persevere. Don’t quit.”
B.J. Hall, Ogalalla/Sioux
Youngtown, Arizona

Suggested Web sites and links for the category of “Personal and Familial”:

Native Homicide and Suicide Issues – http://www.dc.gov
Native Music – http://www.NativeMusic.com
Native Family Health – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/nativeamerican health.html and http://www.Nativeweb.org
Native Tribal History – http://www.NativeCulture.com and www.NativeAmericans.com
Native Family Housing – http://www.hudgov/groups/NativeAmericans.cfm

Financial

“The difference living in town is money. On the rez we never had any. The elders never have allowed alcohol to be bought or sold on the rez. So what do we do? We drive to a border town like Gallop or Flag (Flagstaff, AZ). We’re bored on the rez so we come to town, then get edgy in town so we come back home. There’s a constant stream of frustrated teens driving pickups back and forth, back and forth. When we move to the city, we lose our language. If we stay on the rez, we end up drunks, sitting on the steps of the trading post. The Denetah (Navajo Nation) is all 25,000 square miles of rocks. That’s why our good Uncle Sam gave it to us. We can’t grow anything here. He hoped we’d starve here. But we fooled him and raised sheep. Our unemployment rate is heavy, our housing is substandard and nearly half of our homes have no running water and only one in seven homes has a phone. Some call us ‘third world’. Our average per-capita income is somewhere around four grand a year. Our nation has no gaming, no casinos. Our only hope to improve reservation life is for our elders to allow gaming. But we don’t really want the Whites here and the crimes associated with gaming that other reservations have. We don’t want gambling because we know of its addiction, but if we can’t get more money, our people will empty the rez by moving to the big cities. What choice will we have? I recommend that those who move to town don’t get caught up in the white ways of greed. Preserve your ancestry. Don’t become selfish like city people.
Gloria, Dineh (Navajo)

“I am a federal agent, an investigator involved with keeping the Native casinos honest. You can’t use my name, but you can list my tribe and rez. We have 337 Indian casinos in 29 states. Indian Gaming generated 4.6 billion gross profits in 2003 and 16.7 billion in 2004. Check out our web site http://www.nigc.gov and check my figures. Gaming will be legalized nationally and…California will be the first state to do it. Consider the fact that one percent of the population of California is Native American. The ‘Governator’ (Arnold Swartenager) thinks that Native Gaming will solve the financial woes of California—that one percent of the population will save his state! The Red Man wants to exploit Anglos, but the Anglos have had 500 years of practice.

There has been a radical increase in gaming under Title 18. Man, we (tribes with casinos) have never had such financial power as we have had since the Indian Gaming Act of 1988. We say we have a lot of money, but do we? We can control a lot of money but we have not been trained how to do it. And tribal officials are reluctant to ask how for two reasons: pride and power. They are too proud to ask the Anglos who know how to invest money and they are too power-oriented to want anyone to interfere in their own spending agendas. We are often our own worst enemy. Culturally, the clan who is in power tribally gets to decide how the money is spent. The solution is that, the tribe who wants a casino should contract specifically with the casino owners so that one day the Natives will both own and manage it. Few think this far ahead, and like the Tohono O’Odham Reservation, they often get no money at all by having a casino built! Although casino-generated funds must be used for tribal betterment, few elders learn to diversify massive amount of monies. There is a big failure of tribal administrators to use casino profits for correct use. They allow tribal politics to be a factor. It clouds their judgment and lets nepotism be the rule of thumb.

Casinos can mean tribal jobs, but if you work at a casino, the casino becomes your ‘second wife.’ New employees get the worst shifts and family life soon takes second place to the job. Many Natives who want to work at the casinos have never worked anyplace before…they are not self-disciplined. They cannot realize that when you miss three days work, you are fired. There is a 25-30% turnover in employees every month in most casinos.

Another downside is potential addiction. All casinos must, by law, have Gamblers Anonymous literature available: but what GM (General Manager) in his right mind will force it on a gambler? So what are the odds? Let’s just say that the only machine you always get money out of in a casino is called ‘ATM’ (laughter). Seriously, the games are supposed to pay out 85% of the time but that’s pure bunk. That means you should get back 85 cents on every dollar you play, but the odds are usually something like one in 10 millions pulls (of the handle) on a slot (machine). What most gamblers don’t know is that the combinations are always moving within a given game. You think the casino owners are going to tell anyone the real odds?

Gaming is OK when it’s pure entertainment, fun rather than a matter of money, versus compulsive/addictive gambling. Another negative is the ruin of families. I want to see Natives working in the casinos, but I don’t want to see Natives gambling! I don’t like to see them playing cards or roulette or slots in any casino I oversee. Gaming is there to get money to our people, not take it from them. That’s why casinos don’t cash employment checks. 

Is gaming helpful to our people? Take, for example, that on my rez, Standing Rock, there is 73% unemployment. Casinos mean jobs. There may be almost no other job opportunities on rez. But when a casino is right next door to the city, like the Gila River Casino and Scottsdale area, you know that city Natives will flock there. You can always find Natives to talk to if you are new to a city by going to the casino. Since the reservation borders Phoenix and all the burbs, we have a lot of casino traffic. But few Natives consider the long term effects. We are counting too much money to think about the future. Seriously, get on our site http://www.nigc.gov and check out my stats for yourself.”
Hunkpapa Sioux, Standing Rock

“My family has lived here (in Chicago) for four generations. We never registered with the Blackfeet Nation because we didn’t feel it was important. We want to blend in, not be hated for our blood. Although we have more tribal pride today, we are still lost in this melting-pot of city life. Our urban Native communities are depressing and our people sometimes have like this gray cloud hanging over them. The old days of buffalo extermination and reservation confinement had forced our ancestors to rely on the government for their necessities. And still today, if they want to give us money for being Indian, we will let them. Most of our people in the ghettos exist in a hopeless apathy, tired, listless, and discouraged. Alcohol is the only affordable escape. There is no mystery why Indians drink so much. That left and right brain stuff is nonsense: we just can only afford booze. (laughter)

I hate being branded as a ‘vanishing American’. Do I look vanished to you? It’s just that, as a people whose way of life was once sustained by victory, we have been unable to adapt ourselves to a defeatist mentality.  We are not weaponless warriors, for we have learned the benefits of cyberspace. We are no longer a people without vision, trapped between cultures. But we can feel trapped in the city in our own minds. My children, who attend school in the burbs, have lost their incentive for self-expression. They don’t know about Indian pride. They read about Red Power now in their history books. They are dark skinned. So, in the mind of the Anglos they are ‘less thans’. For a time, we put them in Christian schools. But Christian teachings of self-sacrifice hold little meaning for children who have sacrificed their culture already. Grandfather thought living in the city would get better each generation but we have seen that vision vanish with each new generation. We must adapt to the city or perish: it’s either extension or extinction. Our kids see many die on the rez and die young, so we came to Chicagoland. I’m afraid we’re here to stay.”
Lisa Gets-The-Gun; Comanche/Northern Cheyenne
Crystal Lake, IL

“My parents were farmers. They did not want to be, but were told by the BIA that they must be. They always joked that their poverty level did not change during the Great Depression. They always said after it was over, the Indians were still Greatly Depressed. They worked their fields as long as they could, but dad died of diabetes while he was in his 40’s and mom died of cancer two years later. After Pearl (Harbor) I joined up to fight the Japs. I counted coup (touching an enemy) many times in that theatre. When I came back from Omaha Beach, wounded and with a Purple Heart…I wanted to stay proud to be an Indian. I was proud when Ira Hayes helped to plant our flag on Iwo, too. 

We really didn’t want to be farmers, so during the war, my sister joined the Navy and married a pilot and after the war I moved to Oklahoma City to find work. I became depressed and a drunk, sleeping wherever I could. I had no place to stay and no money. One night, some men cut me up badly and searched me, thinking I was dead. The police took me to the hospital and just left me there. When I got better, I called my cousin who told me she had the title to our family farm and that it was mine if I would work it. I was not too proud to be a farmer now. I walked, hitched and ran until I got back to the farmhouse. That was sixty years ago and I have never been back to a city since. And I never drank after I came back either. Since Jesus came into my heart, I have never wanted beer. I attend the Full Gospel church in a little town nearby. I am 89 now and content to be a country boy. I am a Creek who lives in the farmhouse by a creek, but I ain’t up a creek (laughter).”
Stephen Willis, Creek/Cherokee
Tulsa, OK

“My grandfather taught me many things about how the Alaskan Natives came to have more control over their lives. He remembers the days of the conflicts with the Russians up here.* In November of 1970 my family moved to Anchorage. My dad was a machinist and was promised work on the Alaska pipeline. But when he applied, he was told that a White man from the lower 48 had spoken for the job ahead of him. Dad was treated rudely and told to leave. Winter was upon us, and we could not dog sled back to our village until the spring thaw. Bitter and without work, we all sought jobs. My brothers and I delivered newspapers and my mother shoveled snow in many store parking lots. Anchorage was not a big city, some say, but to us pre-teens it was enormous. Even other Eskimos made fun of our homemade clothing and called us names. But all Eskimos are survivors and we knew we must all pitch in order to make it. By springtime, we were ‘certified cityfied’ and did not return to our village to live. City living was much faster and worrisome than our former life, but we all decided that it was better. We cannot trade fish and furs for food anymore. People here want cash. Mom’s medical condition is another reason we stay. Perhaps it is a primary one. If we were living in our old home and her liver got worse during the freeze, she could die before the thaw. My brothers and I miss the open places and sliding on the shallow glaciers, but we both found good jobs by searching around Native sites, like http://www.NativesofKodiak.com.” 
Melinda Mangus, Eskimo/Inuit
Anchorage, Alaska

*Melinda’s memories dovetail with the thoughts of Fred Bruemmer in his book “Arctic Memories: Living with the Inuit” (Toronto: Key Porter Books, Limited, 1993. p. 133) “Under Russian rule of Alaska, and subsequently, American rule on the Alaskan side and Russian rule on the Siberian side of Bering Strait, warfare gradually ceased and trade increased.”

“I just did a paper on this for my Master’s (degree) and in my mind, Native Americans fall into four areas. First is the arrival of Columbus to the establishment of the Indian Agency (BIA) in 1824. During this time we were less than human. Then there was the 1830 Indian Removal Act period up to the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. Although we were considered citizens, we were not considered civilized. Many of our People alive during this time were survivors of the Indian wars and carried their scars proudly. Grandfather always called himself a de-clawed cat or a de-fanged snake. After this there is the I.C.A. of 1924 up until the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. All through this time, Native rights, Indian Welfare and education were forced into view by the Red Power people. But after this time, and up to now, there is little or nothing that has been done. Kids don’t do AIM much anymore.

Most of the bigger tribes want gaming. It is a revenge, but a mixed blessing. My sisters go to a sing and they dance when they get their casino checks. They celebrate and go to the malls in Bismarck and Sioux Falls. Every year, they buy new cars even if they don’t need them so much. I enjoy my free money also, but I often don’t know why I have no savings (euphemisms and cussing). I guess we are doomed to suffer the worst plague the Anglo could have placed upon us…damning us all by sharing with us his demons of greed and selfishness. He has come into our world five centuries ago and we are the worse for it. (more cussing) It is too late to convince people like my sisters that all this money has not helped us just because we like it. I often think that I will not live to be like the old ones. My wisdom seems to be wasted on the younger ones who only want to go to the city and party. You can tell people who I am. I am proud to be who am I. Someone may read what I say and remember their Indian history of exploitation and genocide, and then determine to survive. I’m not dead yet, but I think a lot about the days ahead that I can’t see.”
Billy GreyHawk, Graduate Student
Lakota/Gross Ventre
Rapid City, SD

“Here in L.A. we are forced to accept the White way as the best way, but not because we are Indian. These (euphamism) fools don’t know that we are Indian. They don’t hate us for that. They only know that they are White and we are not. Hey, when they get sunburned, they don’t call themselves ‘people of color’ (laughter). But somehow they think they are greatly superior. Here we face the same discrimination as our brothers do in the border towns near the rez. We are afraid too look too far back into our past because we can’t see that far. Since Indians today die as forty-somethings, we have few old ones to turn to for wisdom. What wisdom they had would be hard to apply to city living anyway. What worked on the rez doesn’t work here. If we’d stayed on the rez, we’d appreciate the traditions. But you don’t find people pushing tradition at the Indian Centers (http://www.IndianCenter.org). With 55 hours a week on my job, I got no time to find my ‘roots’. Who do I know my own age that even cares about it? What good are roots and tradition when I have to put food on the table? My feet hardly touch the ground anyway. Look. It’s like my grandma told me: never look back.  When we moved to Orange County, we’ve never looked back either”. 
Mickey Kootenia, Shasta
Los Angeles

Suggested web sites and links for the Financial category:

Native Jobs – http://www.tailwins.com/OK/Nativebus.htm
Native self-employment – http://www.NativePhilanthrophy.org
Native careers – http://www.DiversityCareers.com
Native Job Information – http://www.ntia.doc.gov

Spiritual

“I was very young when we all moved to town. My grandmother was very old. She often laughs about the time the priests said we all must be baptized. She said they gave us no choice in the matter, because they wanted to brag about how every Yaqui was a Christian—according to their beliefs*. So we all loaded up in the cart and went to the baptismal ceremony. Grandmother lived up into her nineties, but still remembers how relentless the priests were in ‘their pursuit of Yaqui hides’. My grandmother always kept her own beliefs, for she knew that the priests would punish her if she practiced her Native religion and they found out about it. She couldn’t even speak her own language around them without being beaten with a broom handle. I have seen the marks, too. I tell others Yaquis about her who were born in the city. It seems hard for them to relate to it.”
Amanda Ho, Yaqui Nation
Tucson

*This corresponds with a line from Evelyn Hu-DeHart’s book, “Missionaries, Miners and Indians: Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Nation”, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1981. p. 33. “By 1623, according to Jesuit records, missionaries had baptized all the Yaquis.”

“Before I became a Christian, I was very interested in my Native religion. When I followed it, it left me flat. Everything in our Native ways became confused when the White missionaries tried to learn our language and reinterpret it for us.* This is why the tribes of the northern plains are not evangelized to this day.

At the city college, I would spend hours searching sites like the newest sites for Natives, like http://www.us-census.org and www.tngenweb.usit.com and other sites, but I was left without hope when I found out that the Cherokee religions have all but vanished. I really wanted to know my roots because I somehow thought that would fulfill my spiritual quest, but it was a dead end. I mean, you can spend thousands on sites like http://www.FamilyTreeMaker.com and www.ancestrycom/trees, but what do you have in the end? These people are just out to make money off you. They don’t care anything about you. 

I wandered for a long time around colleges in and around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I couldn’t focus cause I couldn’t find any real peace. But I finally found it when I began to attend Oral Roberts University. When I got to know Jesus and His power, I knew I was home at last. I found many Christian Cherokee friends there. Many students there have got on http://www.cherokeeGeneology.com  and we have begun chatrooms to contact other displaced and relocated Cherokee all over the country. Man, they are even in Canada. We tell them about the Lord and there are a lot of emails flying back and forth now. God is using the net for evangelism. I glad I found the Lord, though. He’s really the Greatest Ancestor of us all anyway. “
Tommie Green
Cherokee/Lakota
Tulsa

*Tommie reflects concepts found in “Sacred Language: The Nature of Supernatural Discourse in Lakota” (William K. Powers. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986. pp 103-105). “Christianity would be explained to the Lakota by selecting terms in Lakota sacred language that the translator deemed analogous to Christian concepts…not only were such translations ungrammatical in Lakota, it lacked any reference to a meaningful cultural experience.”

“I had to leave the rez cause I was sick of the way the Mafia was taking advantage of us. Many of us thought at first that the casino was a way to get back at the Anglos, a way to get back a little of what they had stolen from us. At least get some free money and better roads and schools for our kids. But it has not helped us. My uncles are all gamblers now. They pride themselves when they win a little. But they mostly lose. The Bible talks to me of taking care of what God gives us, but they argue that gambling is not mentioned in the Bible. They get their casino profits check every year and they just gamble it all away. All our people are doing is making even more money for the Mafia. When I moved to Phoenix, it was for spiritual reasons, but I think God used my anger with the casino to get me to come here. I have found friends at Phoenix First Assembly among the many Natives who come here. We are loved and respected and there are people of many tribes who have come here for a long time. When I go back to the rez, it is only to visit, for there is no happiness in our homes there, it seems, anymore. They are all victims of the mob. Only those of us who have found Christ are really free from the oppression the casino has brought. It just seems that the only way to break free of that deathgrip is to move off the rez. But who wants to move to a little town when the colleges and jobs are all in the city? My recommendation is that people surf the net and line up several jobs before they come to the city. With discrimination the way it is, a guy might get turned down several times before he finds a boss who isn’t prejudiced against Indians.”
Ben Miller, Apache  
Scottsdale, AZ  

“Everyone who fought in Vietnam was not the son of a Codetalker, but I am. As my father suffered after the war, so did us Nam vets.* Many of us were drafted to fight in the most unpopular war ever…three of my buddies (they were all from different tribes) were pinned down one night in a ditch in a gook (Vietcong) firefight. That area was known to have been hit heavy with Agent Orange. All three of these men died of cancer over the next thirty years. Tell me that’s coincidence. Uncle Sam never paid their families anything.  I was OK before I went to Nam. I had plans for college. But so many GI’s smoked dope in Nam, it seemed like what you’d call a ‘bonding thing’ today…all the Natives who fought in Nam wanted to fit in. Hell, we were all GI’s. But through my POW time in Ho Chi Min City, I lost incentive and I lost the blessing way. I lost the path to Creator…I’ve been to the wall in Washington (Vietnam Memorial) and I read the names every year. That wall is cold, unfeeling. No one cares what we did there. This new generation thinks we were all babykillers. I fought and took lives of foreign enemies for the USA, a land that was stolen from my people. One time I had to shoot a teen who was about to lob a grenade at my outfit. All he was doing was what my ancestors did. He was defending his country. He died but they gave me a medal. How do you think that makes me feel? I cannot find the path back to Creator. I am torn, not between two cultures, but three. My damn Nam nightmares, the bellagonna (Anglos) and the Dineh (Navajo)…If this Jesus of yours is real like you say, why has he left our people to fend for themselves? Why has he not fought for us? …I lost confidence in him long ago.” 
Steve, Red Lake Chippewa

*Steve’s thoughts are reflected in “Navajo Code Talkers: America’s Secret Weapon in World War II”, (Nathan Aaseng. Markham Ontario: Walker and Company, 2002, p. 101). “The Navajos came home, bearing the scars of a terrible experience. Most tried to put the war of the bellagonna (White man) behind them. Cleansing ceremonies…were performed to put them at ease…some felt cleaned enough to move on with their lives. Some did not.”

“Grandma was always telling us about the horrible treatment* she received at the hands of the White missionaries and their schools**. How they were as greedy as those who would come and steal even the little land that we had in the White Mountains. Grandma could shoot a bow, and hunters in the 1930’s would run when an arrow was shot into a tree just above their head. She did this more than once. Men did not try to hunt on our land very often. Grandma was from the old ways. When we moved to Phoenix, she hardly ever left the house. People would laugh at her long dress. Grandma kept the Apache way alive until she died two years ago. We were lonely, and the old religions vanished in the smog and rush of the city. We go to a wonderful Baptist church in Tempe today. We know the Lord Jesus as our Savior. Our whole family is saved. I think God sent us to the city to find a new life in God.”
Kathy Moore, Jicarilla

*This often-repeated senerio of ill-treatment is reflected in “Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest” (Edward H. Spicer. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962. p. 307 and 344). “The missionaries each lived in a little kingdom where he was the authority…for the most part the Anglo approach was dominated by the idea of pushing the Indians out of their way and keeping them apart from themselves. In general, the settlers thought in terms of extermination or forcible isolation, rather than Christian conversion.”

**Further collaboration is also found in “The People Called Apache” by Thomas E. Mails. NY: BDD Books, 1993. p. 116. “The White man’s treatment of the Apache did not encourage them to the accept the White man’s ways, so that around 1901, most Apache were against the idea of schools.

“Actually, it was a combination of all four factors that brought me to the city: personal, spiritual, educational and financial. City life was an easy transition for me because I lived in the city for a time when I was about 6 or 7 years old. My parents were in a relocation program. I spent some time in bordertowns (towns bordering the reservation) which made adaptation easier for me. And I went to college in the city, so I became conditioned to see the world outside the rez. During my life, I’ve spent time in New Jersey, Virginia, Denver, Phoenix and now Tucson. It was during college that I rededicated my life to Christ. Now, I have been off the rez since 1991…for about 14 years now…I’ve had 25 years of full-time ministry both on and off the rez. The deciding factor for me to live in the city was a spiritual one. I felt stifled in my spiritual life on the rez. I went into a 21-day fast and realized that I’d die spiritually and financially if I stayed there. The city was a great opportunity for me to get into church. I would like to see more young people actively involved in church life. To do that, they have to relocate here.”
Damon Platero
Navajo, Tucson

“Some people I know have a problem with the Drum Religion. This I don’t understand. Our people have been worshipping the Creator for hundreds of years on the drum. Finding Jesus, we have come to see the tempo is the same for all our worship. The point is not how we worship, but who. As a Christian, how can it be wrong to worship Jesus on any instrument? But the controversy has become so strong, even among Natives, that some young believers have left the Jesus path to find another. Worshipping Jesus with the drum is intended to have a positive effect. When our people fight about it, the devils laugh. Many city Indians have become stuck in tradition, but it is in Anglo worship tradition, not Indian. They want their hymnals and any instrument that might have also been used in tradition they say is ‘wrong’…these same people have their teens playing a full drum set on the platform and they say nothing is wrong with it! And there isn’t, either. What I’m saying that it’s a double standard, eh? The Bible talks about praising God on many instruments…and many (kinds of instruments) that David speaks about are lost in the past. But the drum of the Natives survives. People in other countries worship this same Jesus on many various instruments. We will always worship with drum and flute. Jesus blesses us…so He must like our music and worship.* Our People need to log onto Urban Native Indian sites such as http://www.nwUrbanIndians.home.comcast.net and www.United Indians.com. And these city Indians need to be more open to the Holy Ghost. What does God think about it? I think He likes our music because He likes us.”
Fred Colporter
Confederated Tribes
Seattle, WA

*Richard Twiss addresses pow-wow drum worship in his book, “One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You”. (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2000 p. 124, 134). “Every biblical and creational doctrine has nearly thoroughly stripped the Native church of all of its indigenous music. Musical Pentecost is not one music pitted against another. It is a sharing, a co-mingling, a co-celebration, a co-usage among many tongues. The church is in for great blessing from the throne of God as this new sound of worship from First Nations people, the drum, is heard in the land.”

“My little sis now lives in Scottsdale. She’s even going to church these days. A Baptist one I think. She still does Native beading, but now she beads for the people in her church. She showed me her ‘Jesus Bracelet’ that she beaded and I asked her about the symbolism. She says the colored beads represent several things. The black is for our sins. The red is for the redeeming blood (you know, His washing our sins clean).Yellow is for the glory of heaven and the green for new growth in Christ. The white, she says, stands for the purity of His life. The beadwork she did on the rez was nothing like that. Auntie says she should come home and do her fancy-dancing at the next pow-wow. Sis told me she doesn’t want to offend her, but she doesn’t feel right about it now. She is different now that she’s away from the White Mountains. That’s all I know. But we all travel a lot back and forth now. We have a foot in both camps. I think this is the way it will always be now. No one wants to stay on the rez anymore. I sure don’t.”
Barbie Lee, Apache/Paiute
Phoenix

Suggested web sites and links for this category -“Spiritual”:

Native outreach – http://www.ameritribes.org www.C,reatorConnectionMinistries.com, and http://www.regenerationreservation.org
Native addictions – http://www.overcomersministry.org
Native Bible Studies – http://www.IndianBible.org
Native Youth – http://www.WarriorsforChristonline.org
Native Urban Stories of faith and culture – http://www.WithoutReservation.com

For the rest of this article, see Challenges of Urban Native Millennials – Part 2

 

Maxim of the Moment

Faults are thick where love is thin.