My love of this city is shown in the photographs I take. One place in particular that I love is Union Station. I love Union Station for two personal reasons. First, because it’s beautiful and has a deep history to Los Angeles that has been preserved since 1939. The other reason is because it became a portal in which many people came to the West Coast. Just as European immigrants on the East Coast feel towards Ellis Island, I feel that in the West Coast, Union Station has a symbolic connection – particularly to American Indians that came to Los Angeles through the American Indian Relocation program enacted by the U.S. Government in 1956.
My photo series Legacy of Exiled NDNZ along with my current project NDNZ in the City captures that narrative (rarely seen and shared with Angelenos) about American Indians and the connection it has to Union Station. (Take a look)
Union Station was the portal through which many American Indians came through when they first came to Los Angeles. It is similar to the way European immigrants feel towards Ellis Island. I felt it was needed as a symbolic starting point of my work Legacy of Exiled NDNZ. It’s also where people from different tribes first saw other Indians and bonded. I’ve had some elders tell me they remember being at the train station and making connections with other Indians they met at Union Station in the 1950s & 60s. Many of these connections prompted friendship and the beginnings of support networks. Many of them have maintained these friendships still today.
My work started with the realization that of all the diverse stories and histories being told about contemporary Angelenos, virtually none focus on American Indians living in Los Angeles today. Back in 2008, I saw Kent Mackenzie’s neorealist film The Exiles (1961). The film showcases a true depiction of Indians living in Los Angeles, especially at a time when Hollywood cinema was still generating stereotypes of Indians in Western films. I love The Exiles because it gave a true portrayal of American Indians going through the U.S. Relocation program. My parents, like many Indian families, migrated to various cities through the program. The Exiles inspired me to do something – to bring to light that we (as American Indians) have a history in Los Angeles. Clearly, people from many culture have come to Los Angeles, such as: Asian Americans, Mexican Americans and African Americans. But while their stories have been told and acknowledged, the American Indian migration to cities has not been discussed on a larger scale. I want our history to be remembered. We too have a story woven into the history of Southern California.
I want people viewing my images to understand our narrative in Los Angeles. I am hopeful it will fill in the historical gap that has removed placement of urban Indians in Los Angeles, as well as understand that Union Station is an Indigenous mapping to place and time.
American Indians have not disappeared, we exist in the present. I “modernized” Mackenzie’s The Exiles as a way to update the urban Indigenous narratives with young American Indians who are second and third generation Angelenos in their twenties as a way to share their stories. I also wanted to pay homage to the 1st generation of exiled ndnz, while also providing a depth of understanding about the Indian Relocation program rarely ever shared in the Los Angeles history of American Indians.
In Photos: Spencer Battiest (Seminole/Choctaw), Vivian Garcia (Cherokee), Tony Moran (Navajo/Salvadorian), Courtney Alex (Navajo), Gladys Dakam (Lakota), Heather Singer (Navajo) and Kenneth Ramos (Barona Mission Band of Indians).
NDNZ in the City shares the narratives of mixed cultures in Los Angeles. My participant Viki Eagle is Lakota and Japanese. We took photos around Union Station and Little Tokyo to share how she is connected to her bi-cultures. However, one culture is given tribute in Los Angeles while the other is not.
In Los Angeles there are several communities named in tribute to their cultures: Little Tokyo, Korea Town, Little Ethiopia, to name a few. Yet even though there are approximately 150,000 American Indians living in Los Angeles there is no formal acknowledgement of our presence.
I love Union Station because, it is a hub of many cultures, stories and history. I will continue my ongoing multimedia work to maintain our cultural contribution and contemporary presence to Los Angeles, California.
The prologue to our short film. I was asked why I wanted to do this project and why it was important to people in Los Angeles. It was simple, I said: “Displacement from our Native Homelands has not caused the Indian to disappear…” despite the massive belief in society…
We are #StillHere #ExiledNDNZ #RealNDNZ #NDNZInTheCity