This Collective Centers Native Indigenous Communities In The Bay Area Through Political Fashion, Sacred Art & Storytelling

With all of the insidious rhetoric and propaganda around Columbus Day and Thanksgiving out of the way - we wanted to take some time to actually honor native Indigenous communities, especially in the Bay Area where so many native tribes and sacred lands are adversely affected by capitalism and climate change.

We were beyond honored to chat with Joey Montoya, founder of URBAN NATIVE ERA, a “collective youth striving to create a vision and voice for 7th generation Native America by reclaiming our traditional knowledge and identity in a rapidly changing world; simultaneously redefining what it means to be indigenous and free.”

Check out this interview:

 Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Photo courtesy of Urban Native

When and why did you create Urban Native Era and what does the name mean? 

I remember I was reading a book that mentioned the term “Urban Natives”, it caught my attention immediately. I was born and raised in San Francisco and by literal definition, it’s who I am, an Urban Native. Personally, being an Urban Native is not only living in an Urban environment but also applies to every Native person who is affected by the urban environment and experience. Being an Urban Native is about letting people know that we are still here and alive.

 Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Photo courtesy of Urban Native

I remember feeling helpless during my first semester at San Jose State University in 2012. I had just turned 19 years old and I saw what was happening within our community, our people, the youth, and I wanted to help. Towards the end of my first semester in December 2012, a movement had formed called Idle No More. For folks who do not know, Idle No More was a social movement started in Canada by Indigenous women, who were fed up with the infringements upon their rights by the former Prime Minister Harper. This movement spread around the world and many Indigenous folks began showing solidarity with our First Nations (What many Canadian indigenous peoples call themselves) relatives by holding a ‘flash mob’ in a public space. So I picked up my Nikon D3200 and went the nearest flash mob that was happening in San Jose, CA. I tried my best to take photographs and videos of the flash mob. A little before this, I knew I had wanted to create some form of a public page on facebook that focused on these issues. This movement gave me the inspiration to create the page and share these photos and videos online.  This was the beginning of a new Era of Indigenous resistance. This motivated me to continue with this work and increase awareness surrounding Indigenous issues through film, design, social media, and ultimately via Urban Native Era.

As an Indigenous Community / Native American community - how do you reclaim space and celebrate your roots with intention?

Personally, I try to reclaim space in every way and form possible. This can be as little as sitting in a coffee shop wearing a “Phenomenally Indigenous” T-shirt or working to put together a ‘Today at Apple’ session at their Union Square Store in San Francisco. Visibility is important. Something as simple as acknowledging the land and people of it before any event can be very powerful. These are just a few ways I reclaim space, but the ways to reclaim are endless. Just being Indigenous and honoring that is reclaiming. Especially since we were never intended nor publicly considered to be alive and thriving. Existing is reclaiming.

 Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Photo courtesy of Urban Native

What are some work/initiatives that Native communities are presently doing in the Bay Area (or in general) to keep the authentic legacy of Indigenous Native Americans alive? 

 Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Photo courtesy of Urban Native

So much amazing work is happening all over California but I have to highlight some work that is being done specifically in the Bay Area. First, we have Cafe mak-'amham, a contemporary Ohlone cuisine cafe, that just opened up in Berkeley, California.  Second, Corinna Gould and Johnella LaRose founded the Sogorea Te Land Trust in 2012 to reclaim Ohlone Land in the Bay Area. There has always been a land issue and as we continue to move forward I feel like it will always be an issue for many Indigenous communities. Land plays a very important part in who we are as Indigenous Peoples. Lastly, Corey Ashley created an app called, “Diné Adóone’é,”  focused on helping Diné people express clan kinship among each other using the Diné language. These are just a few initiatives happening in the Bay Area. As you continue to follow us we will continue to highlight all initiatives and work happening in our communities across Native Country.

How do you combat appropriation? 

First and foremost, when we talk about Cultural Appropriation we must never compare one culture to the other. Personally, every culture is unique in their own way and it is incomparable when it comes to what folks are appropriating. There are many positive ways to combat appropriation. Through our youtube channel and social media, we worked on tackling cultural appropriation through storytelling. We released a video where Indigenous folks answered the question, What was their first memory of cultural appropriation?  It's important to tackle issues like this in a creative way to reach an audience that might still question cultural appropriation.

These are just a few ways we tackle cultural appropriation.

Historically, what role did fashion play across Native American culture? 

Many tribes have their own significance. But what I was taught is that our regalia holds stories and have history behind it. Depending if it’s a dance or during a ceremony, there are certain regalias you are supposed to wear. Each plays an important and significant role in the specific tribe.

 Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Photo courtesy of Urban Native

Share one interesting historical fact from your culture that you think our community may not know.

As of 2018, their are 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States. But that does not include non federally recognized tribes, and state tribes. Each tribe is different and unique in its own way. Although we are Indigenous to North America we are still all unique and different in our own way.