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From Gangs to the Red Road: Remembering Frankie Rivera

Frankie Rivera, a prominent urban Native activist from Sacramento, California, lost his battle with brain cancer on August 29. He was 38.
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Frankie Rivera, a prominent, outspoken urban Native activist from Sacramento, California, lost his battle with brain cancer on August 29, 2015. He was only 38.

While among us, he sought liberation for the Native People of Turtle Island, and for four-legged and two-legged beings to learn to live in balance with all things “seen, unseen, and in between.”

Rivera, who was Diné (Navajo, Edge Water Clan) and Taino, was a constant fixture at protests, rallies and demonstrations throughout the San Francisco Bay area. He was a veteran of the American Indian Movement West, and could be depended on to fight for a host of Native issues.

Rivera was not afraid to be on the frontlines. He will be remembered for being a passionate warrior, armed with a hand drum and wearing long braids, marching proudly with the aid of a prosthetic leg. He put a face to Native issues on busy California streets, where indigenous oppression is often ignored and neglected.

He demanded freedom for Leonard Peltier, justice for Alex Nieto and an end to discriminatory practices by local businesses. He marched in support of civil rights, Idle No More, Children are Sacred, and a multitude of other causes, giving voice to the voiceless and in place of those who could only hope to attend events “in spirit.”

Rivera had an active online presence too. He supported well-known Native advocacy groups like Last Real Indians, the Lakota People’s Law Project, and the rants and writings of this Oceti Sakowin winyan (woman).

He educated others as well—about Native history, colonization, the American Indian Movement, environmental problems, and AIDS awareness. He was HIV positive, and did not hide it.

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He had a difficult upbringing, but he didn’t run from his troubled youth. Instead, he used his story to inspire others. He was born in San Francisco’s Mission District and growing up, he was involved with gangs. He served 10 years in the California penal system while he was still a teenager.

Behind bars, Rivera became acquainted with his Native roots. His spirit awakened. He began to walk the Red Road, one of wellness and sobriety. With Creator’s help, he transformed himself from a thug dedicated to a life of crime, to a Native man who would devote the rest of his life to activism.

Over the past several months, his health declined and cancer took its toll. As he struggled to keep a roof over his head, find medical care, and even food to eat, his story became like that of many Natives, who fall between the cracks. He had a good heart and while he may have died in poverty, he was rich in spirit.

He never gave up. He kept fighting until the bitter end. It is us who failed him. He suffered for a long time, yet he showed up—for all of us.

Rivera is survived by his mother Laurene Killip, father Frank, stepmother Linda, sisters Alicia, Celia, Josephina, Jasmine, Iesha and Celina, brothers Remo, Shaw and Bobby, extended family, and many friends.

Rest in Power.

For those who wish to donate towards Rivera’s funeral and medical expenses, they can do so on GoFundMe.

“All my relations, walk in beauty.” – Frankie Rivera