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Urban American Indians Booklist

Most American Indians have lived in cities since the 1980’s but many Americans still think of them as living on reservations. Although most American Indians keep connections to their home reservations, several generations of city dwellers have come to view themselves as primarily “urban Indians”. The transition to city life was not quick or easy. The federal relocation programs in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s promoted the move from reservations to cities, but the “culture shock” of city life was too much for many who returned to their reservations - but as time went on many returned to cities. Today urban Indians occupy diverse unique roles as mediators with their home reservations, their specific urban group (e.g. Cherokees of Los Angeles), the “pan-Indian” community of people from many different reservations, relations with local indigenous groups, and with non-Indians. The following titles provide insights into the diverse aspects and challenges of urban Indian experience.

List created by the Michael Mclaughlin, American Indian Resource Center Librarian (December 2014).

Find more reading suggestions at Books & More.

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Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration & Identity in Twentieth-century Los Angeles by Nicolas G. Rosenthal

Rosenthal reorients our understanding of the experience of American Indians by tracing their migration to cities, exploring the formation of urban Indian communities, and delving into the shifting relationships between reservations and urban areas from the early twentieth century to the present.

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Bernie Whitebear: An Urban Indian's Quest for Justice by Lawney L. Reyes

Bernie Whitebear was an urban activist in the Pacific Northwest during the last decades of the twentieth century, a man dedicated to improving the lives of Indians and other ethnic groups by working for change and justice. He unified Northwest tribes to fight for the return of their land and was the first to accomplish this in the United States.

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Mental Health Care for Urban Indians: Clinical Insights from Native Practitioners / edited by Tawa M. Witko by Tawa M. Witko

Cultural Insights from Native Practitioners is the first clinical book written by American Indian scholars working in Indian communities. This groundbreaking volume provides the reader with a basic understanding of the historical impact of colonization, the ensuing results of urban migration and boarding schools, and the effects that these events have had on the Native community.

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"Real" Indians and Others: Mixed-blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood by Bonita Lawrence

Mixed-blood urban Native peoples are profoundly affected by federal legislation that divides them into different legal categories. In this pathfinding book, Bonita Lawrence reveals the ways in which mixed-blood urban Natives understand their identities and struggle to survive in a world that, more often than not, fails to recognize them.

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Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75 by James B. LaGrand

This study looks at Indian urban experiences from the perspectives of those who lived them. LaGrand also examines why Native peoples began changing their self-identification from a tribal designation to that of "Indian." If LaGrand had reported just on Indian urban experiences and examined Indian identity, his study would have been remarkable. However, it serves as an example of the kind of information that can be obtained from an innovative approach to the study of American Indian social history.

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Urban Voices: The Bay Area American Indian Community by Intertribal Friendship House, Community History Project

California has always been America's promised land --for American Indians as much as anyone. In the 1950s, Native people from all over the United States moved to the San Francisco Bay Area as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program. Oakland was a major destination of this program, and once there, Indian people arriving from rural and reservation areas had to adjust to urban living. They did it by creating a cooperative, multi-tribal community--not a geographic community, but rather a network of people linked by shared experiences and understandings.

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Our Elders Lived It: American Indian Identity in the City by Deborah Davis Jackson

Informed but not dominated by identity theory, Jackson's sensitive interviews and personal narratives allow the indian community to speak for itself and to present its own vision of the challenges facing urban Native Americans.

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O, My Ancestor: Recognition and Renewal for the Gabrielino-Tongva People of the Los Angeles Area by Claudia K. Jurmain

The core of this work is a nicely illustrated, edited, and readable series of ten conversations with living Gabrielino-Tongva men and women that address three primary themes: "Continuity within Change: Identity and Culture," "Connection to Place: Land and History," and "The Enduring Vision: Recognition and Renewal."

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American Indians and the Urban Experience by Susan Lobo & Kurt Peters

When viewed from the Native perspectives, our concepts of urbanity and approaches to American Indian studies are necessarily transformed. Courses in Native American studies, ethnic studies, anthropology, and urban studies must be in step with contemporary Indian realities, and American Indians and the Urban Experience will be an absolutely essential text for instructors.

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The Urban Indian Experience in America by Donald Lee Fixico

In this ambitious undertaking, Fixico tries to cover the Indian urban experience since the 1940s by mapping the Indian diaspora from the reservations to large cities in the United States. His approach is more narrative than statistical, presenting Indian urban experiences through a nonlinear, ethnohistorical approach that includes oral histories from a variety of Native Americans.

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Indian Country, L.A.: Maintaining Ethnic Community in Complex Society by Joan Weibel-Orlando

Weibel-Orlando's landmark work proposes a dynamic model of community formation, describing community not by means of static categories but rather in terms of how it is experienced by its members: through collective responsibilities, institutions, cultural continuity, public ritual, locality, communication networks, and shared history.

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The Exiles by Kent Mackenzie

The Exiles chronicles a night in the late 1950s in the lives of a group of young American Indian transplants from Southwestern reservations to the decaying Bunker Hill section of downtown Los Angeles. Mackenzie makes extensive use of voiceover narration by the subjects, who articulate their hopes, fears, and sense of isolation and alienation as they struggle to adapt in their new urban environment.

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Extinction or Survival?: The Remarkable Story of the Tigua, an Urban American Indian Tribe by S.K. Adam

Focusing on the Tigua tribe near El Paso, Texas, Adam examines how terms such as indigeneity, identity, authenticity, culture change, and perseverance are understood and defined by the US government. He analyses how issues of power, law, discourse, genocide, and self-determination affect the relationship between the United States and its indigenous populations, past and present.