Invisible Skins: Aboriginal Americans Get Visible in Griffith Park
Johnny Jackson is an urban Native American. He is clean-cut, well-spoken and looks young for his 21 years. At the moment, he is sitting in a small tent with his mom and sisters, preparing to don his traditional regalia and sing and dance at a powwow in Griffith Park. Cover band Dog Day is blasting "Sweet Home Alabama" on the main stage.
Sam Slovick Johnny Jackson
Jackson wears a black Iron Maiden T-shirt and black baseball cap that says "Quechan." He explains: "I'm from the Quechan from Uma Arizona and Laguna Pueblo from Laguna New Mexico tribes." He also is one of hundreds of L.A. urban Native Americans who have shown up for the United American Indian Involvement/Seven Generations' Indian Day community gathering, which includes food, arts and crafts and a health fair.
"Indians are only 1 percent of the population, we need you," the MC says from the stage as he encourages L.A.'s autochthonous community to visit the bone marrow donor booth.
Jackson will be dancing as the headman in a few hours. "When I was younger I didn't know much about Native American teachings or songs or dances." I'm used to city life and everything. When I was 15 I first encountered the teachings. My uncle taught me."
Jackson says that it's important for Native American youths to recognize who they are and where they came from. "Without the new generation adapting to our old Native ways, a lot of that will be gone," he says. He adds something undoubtedly felt by everyone in the crowd: "We're here. You may not see us, but we're here."
Jackson's friend Sequoia is a gourd dancer and drummer. The thin 17-year-old wears a black beanie and sneakers with purple laces. He's an urban Native with roots in the Apache and Tohono O'odham tribes in Arizona and New Mexico. "My grandmother told my mother not to let me do a lot of things, not to baptize me or take me to church," Sequoia says. "My grandmother went to boarding school."
Sequoia says drumming is in his blood. He loves singing and knowing indigenous American language. "That's meaningful to me because some of the Native language is lost already. Apache, it's lost. It's gone because of the boarding schools. I'm gonna go with the flow. I got born into this."
Jaclyn Bissonette wears long, dangling earrings with a picture of Chief Joseph. She is Oglala Lakota from South Dakota. Her mother is Paiute-Shoshone from California.
"Chief Joseph was a great chief from the Nez Perce Nation from northwestern America," Bissonette says. "We come to powwows and connect because we're not connected on that spiritual level like in the hogan or sweat lodge. Many ceremonies that are sacred are not held in the city -- you have to go back to your reservation to be a part of that -- so we come together here with that same sacredness."
Bissonette is an outreach worker at the United American Indian organization. She's known Andy Jones for a while. He is from the Tohono O'odham tribe from Arizona. Stoic, with long, dark hair, chiseled features and an elder's evolved perspective, he is retired but still volunteers with seniors. He's in charge of the bingo today.