LOS ANGELES – When Native people garner recognition on a positive and official level, it’s a milestone, hallmark and something to jot down in the history books. Such an event is brewing in Los Angeles. On Oct. 27 Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officially recognized November as American Indian Heritage.
Joining Villaraigosa at City Hall were California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and an array of Native spiritual leaders, city officials and community leaders.
At the center of planting the seed for this dedication is Joanelle Romero, founder of Red Nation Celebration, a Native-based nonprofit organization funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs in Los Angeles.
“This is a very unique situation between the city and Red Nation,” Romero said. “We initiated this and brought this gift to the mayor and the city.”
The dedication is open to the public and Romero, an Apache, encourages other Native people to come out and support this historic event. She added that, from her own investigation, no mayor of any city has officiated the month-long celebration.
Such a dedication is fitting for Los Angeles. It boasts the largest urban American Indian population in the United States, representing scores of tribes locally and nationally. Romero said she received the blessing of 19 tribal representatives before setting the plan for the dedication in motion.
She also garnered the support of spiritual advisers such as Jimi Castillo, Tongva, a pipe carrier, water-pourer for sweat lodges, and healer. Castillo said he will give an opening prayer at the reception. “This dedication will instill a lot of pride back into the Native American community,” he said.
This year, Red Nation Celebration’s dedication to the first American Indian Heritage Month will spotlight environmental issues, boasts a water ceremony, film festival, concert, workshops, comedy jam, and more. The events are spread out from Nov. 1 – 18.
The concept for the month-long celebration began six years ago when Romero approached Margie Reese at the local Department of Cultural Affairs and suggested to her that the city needed to officially observe American Indian Heritage Month.
In June 2005, Reese and Romero committed themselves to mapping out a plan on how to approach city officials with their vision. In January, their planning paid off when Villaraigosa set a date for the dedication reception.
Romero credited Reese, who now lives in Africa, for helping her turn a dream into reality. “With her support, care and guidance we were able to have it launched here in Los Angeles,” she said.
Romero said she envisioned Los Angeles at the helm of the celebration after hearing Sen. John Kerry’s 1992 declaration that November should be set aside as American Indian Heritage Month.
The dedication won’t bring Kerry to California, but Bustamante plans on speaking in support of the mayor’s decision.
“I am very pleased to be part of the celebration of American Indian Heritage Month and to help promote greater understanding of the great contribution American Indians have made to our nation,” he said in an e-mail. “Such actions reaffirm our appreciation and respect for their traditions and way of life and can help to preserve an important part of our culture for generations yet to come.”
Chris Eyre, Cheyenne/Arapaho, renowned director of “Smoke Signals,” “Skins” and “Edge of America,” said the city made a progressive move, but he added that from state to state numerous cities acknowledge American Indian Heritage Month as “a practice in political correctness” rather than an official, heartfelt celebration.
Eyre, who lives in Rapid City, S.D., also said that the upcoming events of the Red Nation Celebration recognize Natives for their contemporary achievements rather the stereotypical historical molds of the past. “I think it’s important to celebrate the past but not to the extent we should celebrate the present.”
Eyre’s filmmaking accomplishments will be celebrated with a day-long showing of his movies at the film festival.
In addition to the famous are the hardworking Native residents of Los Angeles. When Patricia Running Crane Devereaux, Blackfeet and resident of three years, heard about the dedication she admitted that she was overwhelmed by the news and plans to attend the reception.
“This Native is rejoicing,” she said. “The official dedication is definitely long awaited and the Native community deserves the recognition.”
Villaraigosa was unavailable for comment as he was in Asia at press time.