INDIAN ALLEY INITIATIVE: signs and wonders by Tom Grode

This is part two of a two part article titled Indian Alley Initiative. Click here to read part one.

Deuteronomy 26:7-8…..”Adonai heard us and saw our misery, toil and oppression; and Adonai brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders.”  (Complete Jewish Bible)

I live on Main Street.  The signs say my neighborhood is the Old Bank District, but Don Garza, Town Crier for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, tells me I live in Skid Row Heights.

One of the disturbing things to Skid Row residents is the absence of signs letting you know you’re in Skid Row. Almost like the city is trying to hide something. Street artist Wild Life fixed that with these guerrilla signs (not a reference to zoo navigation) with photos quickly taken by Stephen Ziegler before these guerrilla signs were removed.  Stephen is responsible for the Indian Alley sign.

Skid_Row2 539542_10200105613917001_548625245_n wild life gentrification dtla courtesy Stephen Zeigler-thumb-500x310

dtla hipsters wild life courtesy Stephen Zeigler-thumb-500x305

Thanks to Wild Life and Stephen you now know what arrows to follow in Downtown Los Angeles to find Skid Row, Hipsters, and Gentrification.

A sign is important, but it’s important for what it points to.


Azusa Street is a small side street/alleyway in the southern part of Little Tokyo, immediately north of Skid Row. A Time Life pictorial in 2000 listed the 100 Most Important Events in the past one thousand years from 1000 to 2000 A.D. and number 68 on the list was the Azusa Street Revival.

According to Julia Bogany, Cultural Director for the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, and to Fred Berry, founder of the Azusa Street Mission, in the late 1800’s Indian Alley was known by a nickname containing a term deeply offensive to African Americans as Natives were brought there and sold as laborers for five dollars.

Click here for article “Healing on San Pedro and Azusa”.

While question marks punctuate the western boundary of Skid Row/Old Bank District, the northern boundary of Skid Row/Little Tokyo has been settled.  Locals in the overlap live, work, and play in Skidrokyo.


How the California Natives lost their land is a story Skid Row residents can appreciate.

The Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848 ended the Mexican American War and created the State of California. The Treaty called for this new government to provide for the welfare of the Natives.

President Millard Fillmore authorized Federal Treaty Negotiators to negotiate treaties with the California Natives. These Treaty Negotiators travelled throughout California in the authority of the President and eventually signed land treaties with about one-third of California Tribes.

When these signed treaties went through the ratification process, Washington legislators from this new State of California felt the treaties were too generous to the Natives and convinced enough members of Congress from other states not to ratify the treaties.

As this was happening, the State of California implemented a policy calling for those with land claims to formally submit those claims by a certain date. The California Natives were not informed of this new policy. Thinking the treaties they signed had authority, when they realized they did not it was too late for them to submit land claims to the state.

And that’s how the California Natives lost their land, in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe which ended the Mexican American War and created the State of California.

The Advisory Council on California Indian Policy (ACCIP) was created by an act of Congress and signed by President George H. Bush on October 14, 1992.  Responding to data showing California Natives were far below the poverty level compared to Natives in the rest of the U.S., a report was commissioned seeking recommendations on how to improve the lives of California Natives.

Various agencies and groups helped research this report, most notably the UCLA American Indian Studies Center, and when it was sent to Congress it contained two major recommendations.

One was for the Federal Government to either give Federal land in California to California Natives or give them the money to buy their own land.

The other was to design a separate process for California Tribes seeking Federal recognition. The problem is the history of the California Tribes is completely different than the rest of the country. California Natives dealt with the Spanish coming up north through Mexico while all other Natives dealt with European immigrants heading west. The current Federal recognition process was designed with those tribes in mind and doesn’t lend itself to the history of California Natives.

This report was submitted to Congress in 1996 and, according to the librarian at the UCLA American Indian Studies Center, no one knows what was done with it or if there was even an attempt to develop legislation based on its findings.


Mark Charles, who organized the December 2012 reading of the 2009 apology in different Native languages, has developed a plan for a 51st State, a Native American state.

The last state to join the Union was Hawaii in 1959. Charles idea is to combine traditional state representation in Washington D.C. (two Senators and number of House representatives based on population) with the modern reality of cyberspace.

This 51st State would not involve physical land.  To learn more, go to

For generations, many U.S. Government officials have referred to Native Americans as “stewards of the land”, including Senator Maria Cantwell, current Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. A steward is “one who manages another’s property, finances, or other affairs” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Bringing all this stewardship home, I first met Katherine McNenny, the overseer of this blog, sweeping the streets as part of Operation Facelift Skid Row. The local paper for Downtown Los Angeles, the Downtown News, gave this award to Operation Facelift Skid Row as part of their special edition “2012 Best of Downtown”.

Best DIY OFL DT News

After helping sweep the streets a few times, I sent Katherine a poem she posted on this blog last September.

In re-reading the poem, I feel it captures the essence of these Indian Alley Initiative articles.


Garbage in the gutter
Will the street get cleaned…..when…..who?
Off in the distance see some trees. Tall trees.
On the rooftop see lots more. So many.
Looks so normal, relaxed, like anything else would be strangely disconnected.
On the rooftop are the elements. And a simplicity.
But trees are in the ground, the dirt. The roots go deep and create another world.
Even simpler.

A website is being developed for Petition for Follow Up from White House Regarding the Native Apology Contained in H.R. 3326 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act Based on Items Six and Seven in the Apology to help generate fifty thousand email addresses before the petition goes on We The People to hopefully get the other fifty thousand within 30 days. If you would like to be informed when the website is up and be part of the initial fifty thousand We the People online signatures, send an email to

Again, one hundred thousand online signatures is the requirement to get a response from a White House policy expert.

By Tom Grode

Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.

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