Filmmaker Pamela J. Peters explores LA's Native American community through the lens of migration

Friday, November 26, 2021
Filmmaker explores Native American migration to Los Angeles
Pamela J. Peters uses art and filmmaking to raise awareness about Native Americans in Los Angeles, an often overlooked part of the community.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- There are tens of thousands of American Indians living in Los Angeles, yet their stories are rarely told.

But in an alley tucked away between Skid Row and downtown Los Angeles' bustling Main Street, there's a colorful world of dissent and reclamation.

American Indian art is splashed on the walls there - a tribute to voices who've long been silenced.

Pamela J. Peters helped bring American Indian artists to Indian Alley. It's also the title of her latest film. In it, she reveals there are more than 70,000 tribal members living in Los Angeles today.

Many are descendants of Native peoples who moved from their reservations to urban areas like Los Angeles as part of a government relocation program that started in the early 50s.

"I think the intent for the relocation program was really to help. The more I learned about it, it was actually a deceitful program that the government wanted to do," Peters said.

The relocation program aimed to get Native peoples off their reservations and into urban areas, so the government could then sell tribal land.

"The United States saw resource-rich land on these big Native American reservations, places where uranium and copper and other rich resources were going to be instrumental in the era of the Cold War," said Douglas Miller, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University.

"Absolutely, land is fundamental in understating motives behind termination and relocation," Miller added.

Miller, author of "Indians on the Move: Native American Mobility and Urbanization in the Twentieth Century," said from the 1950s to the 70s, about 100,000 Native Americans moved through the relocation program.

But just as many, moved on their own to urban areas for better opportunities.

"The Bureau of Indian Affairs made a lot promises to Native American people that their life is going to be wonderful in places like Los Angeles," Miller said. "That's not what most people experienced. Many Native American peoples who moved to cities like Los Angeles experienced racial discrimination in schools and in housing and at jobs."

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Peters goes deeper into the relocation and migration of Native peoples in her first documentary, "Legacy of Exiled NDNZ."

Her work was influenced by a 1960s film called "The Exiles," the first film to truly show what like was life for those who relocated to Los Angeles.

Places such as Bunker Hill were parts of downtown that used to be home to the relocated American Indians.

Not surprisingly, as time went on, they were relocated again to make room for urban development.

Today, there are tens of thousands of American Indians living in L.A. County - many without a land to truly call their own.

Through her art and filmmaking, Peters is raising awareness about an often overlooked part of the Los Angeles community.

"What I hope they learn is about our existence here in the city," Peters said. "There's a lot of contemporary Natives here in Los Angeles doing some amazing, amazing things."