NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH
Native American Heritage Month honors the contributions of Native Peoples to our nation. It allows us to think of Native peoples outside stereotypes and instead focus on the celebration of the many diverse cultures that remain today.
“For UAII, this month of November begins a time of reflection,” said Joseph Quintana, UAII Vice President of Development. “This is a time when we gather our people together around food, provide warmth, and continue in the tradition of giving. A perspective of giving for the American Indian and Alaska Native community has always ensured that our families and neighbors are well taken care of.”
California is home to more people of Native heritage than any other state with 109 federally recognized Indian tribes. Los Angeles County has more Native Americans than any other county in the United States with nearly 150,000. The City of Los Angeles holds the second largest percentage of Native Americans with more than 50,000.
UAII exists to ensure each Native person in L.A. is on a path to wellness, representing over 200 different tribes in the region. “UAII has always been a unifying center point that has held the community together,” Quintana said. “Where all the odds are stacked against American Indians in regards to policy, forced relocation and other issues, UAII has always continued to be a secure and safe place.”
THE BIRTH OF UAII
In 1974, the streets of skid row in downtown L.A. were known as “one of the toughest hang outs in the West.” Two empowered American Indian women, Lakota Tribal Member Baba Cooper and Paiute Tribal Member Marian Zucco, wanted to serve those who lacked resources and access to services. What started as 2 employees in one of the oldest buildings in L.A. has turned into a community staple providing a wide range of services to more than 3,000 American Indians across Los Angeles County.
“UAII provides services to members from more than 200 tribes,” Quintana said. “This means different languages, different cultures, different perspectives. We offer not only a safe and inviting space, but also a space that is reflective of the many nations we serve.”
According to Vogue, Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than people of any other race. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than any other ethnic group, and 97% have experienced violence perpetrated by at least one non-Native person. Native youth not only have the lowest graduation rates of any racial group, but they are also dying by suicide at the highest rate of any demographic in the United States. These same teens are twice as likely to be disciplined than their white peers in school and are twice as likely to be incarcerated for minor crimes than teens of any other race.
Due to the plethora of systemic injustices inflicted on the Native American community, Quintana says a lot of American Indian youth have been taken from their homes and placed into the foster care system. This causes a loss of self and breaks traditions being handed down, creating more problems and unhealthy cycles.
“Those children had no cultural identity, had no connection either to their tribe, to their culture and they did not know what it meant to be an American Indian,” Quintana said. “What we tried to do was at least provide them some initial glimpses and basic knowledge so that they could feel a sense of pride in identifying themselves either by their tribe or they can find access to other kinship groups.”
Quintana said the problem stems partly from their Los Angeles surroundings. “Over the years, Hollywood has perpetuated a number of stereotypes about American Indians,” Quintana said. “It has had such a negative impact on American Indian youth that oftentimes they are hesitant or afraid to raise their hand to identify. Or if they do say they are American Indian, they can be called upon to answer questions about every Native nation.”
Passing down traditions and history is part of giving young people pride and confidence in their heritage. “What we try to do initially is identify which cultures are prevalent in the area and try to offer some type of cultural knowledge,” Quintana said. “We do things like drum dance, regalia making, art work, beadwork, jewelry making and storytelling. Of course these are things passed down from many different tribes so that’s one way that we are able to bridge some of the gaps and knowledge sharing with our young people.”
Nicole Lim, Social Responsibility Manager at MagicLinks, said the partnership has deepened MagicLinks’ understanding of the struggles of the Native population through first-hand experiences.
“Working with our partners at UAII has been truly harmonious and an invaluable educational experience,” Lim said. “Through UAII, we have been taught the rich histories and traditions of the many local tribes, and how to empower Native people in a culturally sensitive way. Personally, they have opened my eyes to why cultural identity is so important to an individual’s development, especially as a youth. Without understanding cultural identity, one can never truly know who they are, have a sense of belonging or connect deeply with others. It immensely impacts how they carry themselves into the future.”
The Youth Program is a multifaceted offering of options designed specifically to create brighter futures. For instance, the After-School Program at the American Indian Clubhouse provides tutoring and workshops focused on healthy diets, pregnancy education, suicide prevention, science and technology.
“We want to make sure that our young people have advantages that our previous generation never had an opportunity to achieve,” Quintana said. “We want to place our young people in every opportunity that will allow them to be successful long term. We want them to be homeowners, we want them to get an education, we want them to feel like the sky is the limit and the limit is not the sky and that every glass ceiling can be shattered and it just takes one person. We are now seeing many American Indians in leadership roles. So it’s not asking the next generation to step into our shoes, it’s asking them to step beyond us and create their own pathways so that they can uplift the next generation behind them.”
The High School Program offers after-school tutoring and college field trips. UAII also has Recreation Camps and youth team sports, like basketball, cheerleading, archery, hiking, and learning cultural knowledge on the environment.
UAII also created the Leadership Governing Council of the AIC Youth Council that promotes volunteering in the community, advocating with voices, equity and healing, and positive role models for peers. The Youth Program prepares UAII’s youth for important and influential positions in the community and beyond. Quintana says American Indians in positions of leadership in our nation inspire their youth to connect with their heritage.
“There is a major educational achievement gap. 80% of our members either receive a high school diploma, GED or don’t graduate at all,” Quintana said. “Only 12% to 14% go on to higher education. So what does that mean for our young people? There is no future where they feel like they can obtain positions of authority, as a medical doctor, as a leader of a major board of a corporation or to be a judge in government. So we try to do everything that we can to provide opportunities where they see themselves as the leaders of the future.”
The Youth Program encourages young people to be a part of creating their own initiatives. ”It’s one thing for us, who may be educating or working in the field, to tell them what they need,” Quintana said. ”It’s another thing for them to feel like they are empowered enough to work alongside us in order to change their circumstances.
Quintana says the many Native American leaders emerging in positions of power throughout the country can inspire young people. “We work to establish leadership opportunities,” Quintana said. “We want to prepare our young people so that one day, they see themselves in positions where they will be making tough choices. We want them to feel like they can walk into City Hall and that their voices will be heard.”
PHYSICAL EDUCATION PROGRAM
UAII also provides educational options for healthy, simple meal alternatives they can do at home and where their young people can enjoy physical activity.
“Our young people do not have access to healthy quality food because they are in low income households,” Quintana said. Usually our family members are busy deciding whether to keep the lights on or pay for a good quality meal, so they usually pay to keep a roof over their family’s head. This creates a huge disadvantage for our young people, who are obese by the time they are a teenager, they can be pre-diabetic to the age of 30 and we are also seeing high rates of diabetes after that.
Aside from educating their youth, UAII seeks to expand their active interests. “We’ve established an archery program with certified archery trainers,” Quintana said. “Through donations and partnerships, we are able to compete with other organizations in the community. We have a hiking club, we’ve established a basketball team and also a cheerleading team. We want to continue to promote quality health as our youth go into young adulthood.”
STRENGTH THROUGH PARTNERSHIP
MagicLinks partnered with UAII through 1% For The PlanetⓇ, an international organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes. Their mission is to build, support and activate an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet.
“As MagicLinkers and Angelenos, we are naturally deeply connected to our environment and its people, which is why honoring our land and its first inhabitants is so important to us. With knowledge of the exacerbating injustices our Native American brothers and sisters have to go through on their own home soil, we not only wanted to publicly acknowledge the land and history in which the MagicLinks office is situated on, but closely work with a consortium of local LA tribes to help bring their beautiful cultures, traditions and messages to the masses with our technology.”
Quintana teaches that the best way to be culturally sensitive is to throw away every preconceived notion of American Indians.
“Everything you’ve been taught by the media, in cartoons, in images or depictions or mascots … those are just a person’s perception of who American Indians are,” Quintana said. “These misconceptions often create a sense of distrust for many Native people and it’s something we need to overcome. Especially for our next generation. For them to feel wanted and like it’s okay to be a Native person and to feel a sense of pride. To want to learn the Native languages so the languages don’t die. To carry on the cultures and traditions like they should.”
UAII works to educate non-Native entities that American Indians reside in their communities. “Oftentimes, the initial response we get is, ‘I didn’t even know American Indians were still here in LA’, Quintana said. “It isn’t coming from a perspective where we need to offer blame or say ‘you need to do better.’ Instead, we put the onus on ourselves to say we need to do a better job doing outreach, we need more effort to create and maintain relationships and we need to invest the time to build trust on both ends.”
UAII knows that so many people in the non-Native community are willing to help, they just need to find an outlet or a resource to do so. “UAII wants to be a resource,” Quintana said. “We want people to know that American Indians continue to exist. That we have many different concerns that may be unique just to our community. But we also have many different commonalities that overlap all of our communities. We want people to know that the history of American Indians is not just unique to us. It’s also an Angelino story, it’s a Southern California story, it’s a State of California story, it’s a national story.”
Quintana says the easiest way to get involved is to do one simple thing: to read. “Go on the internet and visit our website,” Quintana said. “Look at any of our social media sites and become actively engaged. That is at least an introduction to the organization. UAII hosts a number of events open to the public to come in, take in the space and partake. As you start to become more aware, it’s best to engage with people from within the organization. We have over 120 employees who are willing to sit down with this community that we serve.”
UAII’s provides a wide array of services, to include:
- Case management
- Linkage and referral
- Health education and promotion
- Risk assessment
- Disease and injury prevention
- Disease screening
- Access to medical and dental services
- Vocational counseling
- Youth services such as mentorship, education, tutoring, recreation and cultural activities
- Substance abuse counseling and treatment
- Mental health services
- Singing and Dancing
- Language Classes
- Sage Picking
- Traditional Games and Crafts
- Talking Circles
- Individual Traditional Counseling
- Equine Assisted Growth and Healing Services