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Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa celebrates Native American Heritage Month

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LOS ANGELES – Beginning a month of cultural events spread throughout the city during November, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa celebrated the opening ceremony of the city’s Native American Heritage Month Oct. 30. The ceremony was held at City Hall in downtown L.A. The theme for the opening ceremony was “Elders’ Wisdom, Youth Vision” and included music and dancing by local Native American groups.

“This month, we learn a little about Native Americans and their contributions to this city and to the earth,” Villaraigosa said. “We can all learn to live by their values and connection to the planet. The belief that the earth, the oceans, the trees, the animals and the rivers are all blessings from God and it is our responsibility to ensure they will be here for future generations.”

During the ceremony, the mayor also commemorated UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center, a research and academic institution dedicated to culturally appropriate research, information distribution and community service for and about Native Americans, on its 40th anniversary. He presented a proclamation to the center’s acting associate director, Angela Riley, of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma.

“This honors all the people who have worked hard at the center for the past 40 years and all the ancestors, elders and Native people of Southern California,” Riley said. “We look forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary. Our hope and goal is to develop a vision for the future that supports and facilitates the activities of Native Americans in this region and branches out globally to support indigenous people around the world.”

Villaraigosa spoke about being a student at UCLA in the 1970s, “As a student at UCLA, we recognized the door of opportunity was open and we had to ensure the door would be open for the next generation of students.” Several current students from UCLA’s American Indian Student Association attended the ceremony.

The mayor also acknowledged the efforts of the American Indian Community Council, a nonprofit organization that provides mentorship and advocacy training for American Indian youth, parents and community members.

“For many years, Native peoples were persecuted for speaking their language, participating in their ceremonies and upholding their traditional values. From the infamous Trail of Tears to the BIA boarding schools, the Native American community has refused to surrender its hope and its dignity,” Villaraigosa said. “Their survival in the face of adversity is remarkable and truly inspiring. Los Angeles is forever grateful to have tribal leaders in business, education and public policy.”

Los Angeles is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country, with more than 140,000 people who claim Native American ancestry, and a population in Los Angeles County that has nearly doubled since 1990. Los Angeles has had a City/County Native American Indian Commission for 30 years. In 2006, Villaraigosa was the first Los Angeles mayor to recognize and declare Native American Heritage Month.

According to the U.S. Census Web site, the first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. Red Fox James, Blackfeet, rode horse back from state to state, getting endorsements from 24 state governments, to have a day to honor American Indians. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued every year since 1994, including one from President Barack Obama who proclaimed November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month and Nov. 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day.

This year in Los Angeles, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs is offering music classes for youth highlighting traditional Native American music as part of its Music LA program. The classes will emphasize music history, performance skills, and the application of various traditions in music and dance performance.

Other events planned for Native American Heritage Month include the 3rd Annual Native American Heritage Month Community Powwow, the Intertribal Arts Marketplace held at the Autry Museum, the stage production of “Carbon Black” by Native Voices at the Autry, the Native American Heritage Night sponsored by the Los Angeles Clippers and the 3rd Annual LA Skins Fest, a Native American Film Festival.

For more information on the month-long celebration, visit www.nativeamerican indian.us.