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About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (May 4, 1972)
by Peter Benchley
One evening last spring a 20-year-old Indian,
consumed by loneliness and confusion in his new
surroundings in Los Angeles, began the long walk
back to his Arizona reservation-via the San
Bernardino Freeway. He was killed instantly by a car
traveling at 70 miles-an-hour.
His case was symptomatic of the abysmal plight of
the 300,000 American Indians (of a total U.S. Indian
population of about 780,000) who currently reside in
Poor, ignorant and--in terms of modern
society-culturally backward, they are wretched
strangers in their native land, constituting a minority
in comparison to which even blacks and Puerto
Ricans seem to be faring well.
By almost every statistical yardstick, America's
urban Indians are at the very bottom of the social
totem pole. Nearly half of them drop out of high
school. As families, they earn an average of less than
$4,000 a year, mostly in menial jobs. They are five
times more susceptible to pnuemonia and
tuberculosis than other Americans and 35 times more
likely to die from dysentery (the result of a miserable
diet). Their life expectancy is in the mid-40's, the
lowest in the land.
Compounding their anguish, fully 25 per cent of
all city-swelling Indian males have become alcoholics,
and the murder and suicide rates among Indians are
the highest of all the nation's ethnic groups.
"We're at the bottom of the ditch," says George
Woodward, director of the Bay Area Native American
Council of San Francisco. "Unless we est our salves
out, well end up nothing but artifacts.''
What drives Indians to the cities? For some, it is a
desperate attempt to avoid the small-town bigotry
that pervades rural communities. "We came because
we thought there was more opportunity for our
children," says Celeste Rubidoux, who arrived in Los
Angeles 14 years ago from Red Rock, Okla. "There
was so much prejudice back where we come from."
But most are drawn by visions-however
illusory-of greenbacks. "You're lured by watching
TV, seeing what other people have and feeling you
can get it, too," says Anthony Puley, a 41 -year-old
Pueblo who heads the American Indian Cultural
Center at UCLA. "A lot go into the service, see things
outside the reservation and go back with tales about
outside jobs paying $4.75 an hour for mechanics."
The federal government is also very much to
blame. Traditionally it has helped foster the illusion
of the good life off the reservation. For decades, the
officaf policy of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA) has been to encourage Indians to leave the
reservations and become assimilated into white
According to Woodward, a Sioux-Menominee,
"The government paints a picture of Utopia in the
cities. They say, you'll come here and have a job,
have a house, hospital care, money to sustain you
until you find a job. Anyone who's been on a
reservation all his life, not knowing where his next
meal is coming from, would snap at it."
To be sure, seme Indians do make it in the cities,
even by white standards. Of the more than 10,000
Winnebagos, Chippewas, Menominees and Sioux in
and around Chicago, about 1,000 work and live
comfortably in middle-class neighborhoods. Another
2,000 or so are stable working-class families who
maintain ties with relatives and often return to their
reservations for vacations.
And there is less bigotry in the cities than in small
towns. "We are not discriminated against," says an
Indian leader in Los Angeles, adding with a touch of
bitterness, "We are simply ignored. No one has
wanted to recognize that Indian populations in the
cities are growing."
But by far the majority of the urban Indians
discover that the portrait of affluence and acceptance
painted by the BIA officals is pure fantasy. When the
government sends Indians to Los Angeles-where
there are already 60,000it tries to muffle the
cultural shock by enrolling them in orientation
classes. But rebuilding a man's whole cultural
background is an impossible task.
The sheer volume of what they have to learn-and
the insulting quality of some of the new
regulations-confuse and infuriate many Indians: how
to ride a bus to a particular destination, how to use a
pay telephone, what a parking ticket means, what an
automatic elevator is, how to make a pay toilet
"You take an Indian who's been driving dirt roads
for 30 years and put him on a freeway with big trucks
and buses, and what's going to happen?" asks
29-year-old Ken Harwood, who is one of 94 Indian
students at UCLA.
But daily minutiae are only the superficial signs of
the cultural problems cities work on Indians. The idea
of reporting punctually for work every day is
unknown on most reservations, and punching a
time-clock is too much for most new-arrivals to
comprehend. "Suddenly he's part of a machine, not
part of nature," says David Lester, a Creek who
directs the Urban Indian Development Association in
So the only jobs that many Indians qualify
for-emotionally, psychologically or by training-are
transitory and undemanding of skills. In Chicago's
seedy Uptown area, for instance, dozens of Indians
spend their time sitting around day-labor offices,
which rake off as much as 20 per cent of the wage for
finding a man a day's work.
And often the Indians' inbred craving for personal
freedom, combined with their proud refusal to
humiliate themselves by exposing their "reservation
; English' results in an outright rejection of the whole
economic structure. If they have received even one
paycheck, they have disqualified themselves for
further help from the BIA, so-unless, by tome
miracle, they are familiar with the labyrinthine
bureaucracy of welfare departments-they have no
place to turn. They become derelicts or drunks, and
the first casualties are their families.
"Fifty per cent of the families I see just dissolve,"
says Carmela Cooper, a Pawnee-Pima social worker
with the Los Angeles County Health Department.
'The man begins drinking. The kids see what the
other kids are doing and disrespect the laws of the
home. There are few divorces-just a lot of splitting
Belatedly, the Federal government has done a
complete about-face, and instead of hustling Indians
into the cities !s trying to help the reservations
become economically viable. Where once a company
could settle on or near a reservation and exploit the
cheap labor without investing a cent in the
community, now according to an offical of the Office
of Economic Opportunity (OEO). 'If a company
wants to locate on a reservation the Indians must own
Still, past government inequities have made it
doubtful that many Indian reservations can ever
flourish economically. Just to cite the most glaring
example, the land left to the Indians is, in most cases,
the most arid, less desirable and least productive in
So for the foreseeable future, at least, many
reservation Indians, will probably succumb to fables
about the good life in the cities, and a massive effort
to upgrade urban Indian standards will continue to be
OEO is currently pumping $800,000 in Federal
money into model urban Indian center projects in
Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Fairbanks, Alaska and
Gallup, N.M. And privately funded Indian centers are
springing up in several other cities.
Indians also see hope in the fact that more and
more Indians are being appointed to high-level
Federal posts to deal with Indian affairs. The head of
the OEO Indian Division is a Pine Ridge Sioux, and
the two top officials at the BIA are Oneidas.
But a full measure of equality and opportunity for
the descendents of the country's original inhabitants
is still a long way off.
(New week Feature Service)
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The Indian Community is beginning to lose its fear of the
white, man and is more courageously handling . Indian
problems, according to Louis La Rose, Winnebago Indian tribal
La Rose addressed about 25 persons in the Nebraska Union
Wednesday as part of Indian Culture Week.
' Indians are more willing to help their Indian brothers these
days. La Rose said.
.: He pointed to the recent caravan to Gordon, Neb . to
protest the investigation of the Raymond Yellow Thunder
..death. ' . ;. ' ; ';. ' ' '''
., Yellow Thunder was found dead in his car a week after he '
reportedly was assaulted in the American Legion dub at
Flans ere being made for a trip to Cass Lake, Minn., where
other Indians are having, problems with white harrassmtnt,
' "It may be a long hot summer in Indian territory," he said.
LaRose said Gov. J J. Exon wants an Indian Commission in
Nebraska that is a puppet organization.
10 a.m. Address by Webster
Hobblns, UNL- faculty mam bar;
"The. Future, of Indian In
Education" ' ;
10:30 a.m. Harry, taglebull,
Aberdeen mm Bureau of Indian
Affair (BIA) education off tear
1 1 e.m. Tarry. Wat tan, Winnebago
BIA education off tear '
1 1:30 a.m. Nelson Levering, Omaha
BIA education off tear
1 p.m. Panel discussion with Harry,
BagMMill, Terry Welters and
Naiaon levering. .
2 p.m. Ada. by Vina Oalorla
3 p.m. Address by M. Scott
4 p.m. Qutioi. and answer parlod
with Vina Deiorle and Scott
10 a.m. Leonard Crow Dog,
madlclna man, ipaak on Indian
1 p.m. Raprantatlva of Bureau of
Indian Attain, Washington, D.C.
2 p.m. Addraw by Dennis Bank.
.National coordinator of
Amarlcan Indian Mova merit
3 p.m. Addroa by Lehman
" Brlghtman, director of Indian ;
Studies department, Berkeley,
4 p.m. Question and answer parlod
. with Dannl Bank and Lehman
Saturday end &gndy
12 neon to 1 a.m. Pew
scheduled for the mall north of
Love Library. In the event of
rain, the pott wow I tentatively
scheduled to move to the
THURSDAY, MAY 4, 1972
THE DAILY NEBRASKAN
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