Filmmaker Pamela J. Peters Explores LA’s Native American Community Through the Lens of Migration
But in an alley nestled between Skid Row and the bustling Main Street of downtown Los Angeles, there’s a colorful world of dissent and reclamation.
Native American art is splashed on the walls here – a tribute to voices that have long been silenced.
Pamela J. Peters helped bring Native American artists to Indian Alley. It is also the title of his last film. She reveals that there are over 70,000 tribal members living in Los Angeles today.
Many are descendants of Indigenous people who moved from their reservations to urban areas like Los Angeles as part of a government resettlement program initiated in the early 1950s.
“I think the intention of the relocation program was really to help. The more I learned, it was actually a deceptive program that the government wanted to do,” Peters said.
The resettlement program was aimed at removing indigenous peoples from their reserves and moving them into urban areas, so that the government could then sell the tribal lands.
“The United States saw resource-rich lands on these great Native American reservations, places where uranium, copper, and other rich resources would play a pivotal role during the Cold War era,” said Douglas Miller, associate professor at Oklahoma State University. .
“Absolutely, the land is fundamental to underestimating the grounds for layoff and relocation,” Miller added.
Miller, author of “Indians on the Move: Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century,” said that from the 1950s to the 1970s, approximately 100,000 Native Americans went through the resettlement program.
But just as many, have moved alone to urban areas for better opportunities.
“The Office of Indian Affairs made a lot of promises to Native Americans that their lives would be wonderful in places like Los Angeles,” Miller said. “It’s not what most people have experienced. Many Native Americans who have moved to cities like Los Angeles have experienced racial discrimination in school, housing and work.”
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Peters delves into the relocation and migration of indigenous peoples in his first documentary, “Legacy of Exiled NDNZ”.
His work was influenced by a 1960s film titled “The Exiles,” the first film to truly show what life was like for those who moved to Los Angeles.
Places like Bunker Hill were parts of downtown that once housed displaced American Indians.
Unsurprisingly, over time they have been relocated again to make way for urban development.
Today tens of thousands of American Indians live in LA County, many of whom have no land of their own.
Through his art and his cinema, Peters raises awareness of an often overlooked part of the Los Angeles community.
“What I hope they learn is our existence here in the city,” said Peters. “There are a lot of contemporary native people here in Los Angeles doing incredible, incredible things.”
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