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There Are No Urban Indian Ghettos

The literature on urban Indians suggests that Indians do not form urban ghettos.

The literature on urban Indians suggests that Indians do not form urban ghettos. If a ghetto or Indian ghetto is defined as neighborhoods, say a square city block that is predominantly populated by individuals from the same tribe, like Navajo or Cherokee, let alone Indians from a variety of tribes, then there are no such social formations in any major urban area in the United States.

Most ethnic ghettos are places were members of a particular culture, religion or nationality are assigned by law or discrimination to live in certain sectors of a city. For example, before the 1960s, many ethnic groups like Poles, Jews, Italians, Irish and others, were restricted to live in certain sections of Chicago by law. During the 1960s anti-discrimination laws made the ethnic living patterns of old Chicago no longer legal, and the same for the rest of the United States, although there are still tendencies in certain historical ethnic neighborhoods that persist.

Some tribes live where urban environments have grown up around them. For federally recognized tribes with a reservation land base, the tribal community is clearly marked off. However, for non-federally recognized tribes, there are powerful real estate companies and interests that buy and sell land, and are not encumbered by Indian title. Non-recognized Indian nations whose traditional territory lay within the path of urban development are not able to control significant plots of land, their sale, or occupation.

There are two Indian Missions within Los Angels County. Many Indian villages formerly located there were populated by Chumash, Tongva, Tataviam, and other Indian language groups. Since the 1850s, Indian agents suggested that Indians traditionally living in present-day Los Angeles County should move to Indian reservations. A few did temporarily, but the non-ratification of the 18 treaties in California, including the Fort Tejon Treaty affecting Los Angeles County, ruled out sustainable legal claims to land for California Indians and led to the decline of an early reservation system in California.

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The Office of Federal Acknowledgment suggests petitioning tribes show that they live in a community when located in an urban environment. By this they mean that the tribal members lived contiguously in a specific area, like in a homogenous village or ghetto. The OFA used this definition when handing the disposition of the petition from the Jauñeno, or the Indians of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Many Indians in Los Angeles County live on traditional territory, and sometimes near former villages, but do not Iive in ghettos, since they have little control over real estate.

Many Indians fought the loss of their traditional lands, but lost their houses and farms in local district courts and were subject to eviction. The most well known case is that of Rogerio Rocha, Captain of the Indians at San Fernando, who in 1885 was evicted from land his family had lived on for generations. There are many other cases. Nevertheless, many non-recognized Indians in southern California either still live on traditional land, often near their mission, or have been removed from living near traditional village locations.

The OFA standard of a village or ghetto community for urban tribal groups is not feasible, and should be modified to accommodate contemporary living styles of urban residents. Urban Indian people still make contact through family, lineage, Indian programs, community and tribal government meetings, phone, and other technologies. People maintain Indian, community, and the tribal identities, by living on traditional territory, and maintaining community organizational contacts, and tribal government participation and membership. Non-recognized Indian people living in urban areas should have the option to show their continued community and political commitment through organizations and contacts that reflect the urban environment and the history of local tribal community relations and membership rules.