Hello, I’m Rob
Born on the Saginaw Chippewa Isabella Reservation, Michigan; raised in the land of fruits and nuts, California; currently residing in Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Member of the Native American Journalists Association; Henderson Writers Group; National Association of Memoir Writers; GLAAD Media Institute Alumni; and GLBT Historical Society.
Here you’ll learn a little more about me, plus my works-in-progress, including a memoir trilogy and tribal narrative non-fiction.
I first heard the term “sidewalk Indian” from my cousins on the reservation in central Michigan where I was born. It followed “half-breed” and “apple,” inferring red on the outside, white on the inside.
In the late 1950s my full-blood Saginaw Chippewa father fell in love and married a white girl. When I was two-years-old, we left the reservation for Rio Vista, a small town along the California Delta between San Francisco and Sacramento.
It was there where those words meant to degrade would disappear, only to resurface on our yearly road-trip back to the reservation to visit family during summer vacations. Truth is, I never felt bad having been born bi-racial. I loved and missed my cousins too much to waste time on name calling or hurt feelings.
But “apple” bothered me. Native American ancestry is my core and I’ve never lost touch with or forgotten where I came from.
My family – original last name Yahbay – has existed in the Great Lakes region for hundreds of years, prior to creation of the United States of America and State of Michigan. Needless to say, I am very aware of my lineage and heritage.
As for having left the reservation: I was a child and my parents had their reasons, which I’ll reveal in my memoir trilogy. Today, technology has made it possible to stay connected with family and tribal members thousands of miles apart; building a bridge between the reservation and sidewalk Indian.
There is no denying I am Native American. I love to tell the story of being on a cruise ship once, in the middle of the ocean and a woman asking, “What kind of Indian are you?”
I’m also gay, and grew-up during the 1970s and 1980s, a time of great turmoil in LGBTQ history; including the assassination of Harvey Milk, and the emergence of a pandemic that would take the lives of almost all my friends and lovers.
Out of desperation and anger, ACT-UP would arise, followed by Queer Nation, both movements in not only name but action. “Act-up! Fight back!” The latter, taking back a derogatory word and owning it. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”
This was decades before Idle No More and Me Too. Decades before I would march through downtown Las Vegas for Trayvon Martin, because I believe Black Lives Matter. Decades before I would protest for hours in Los Angeles, when LA Pride became Resist.
My previous WordPress blog – My Native Life – was considered too Native-centric, but ran for several years and had reached 33,000+ readers monthly. At the time, I was working at my tribe’s casino and resort and blogging from the reservation.
When deciding on a name for this blog, I took a cue from Queer Nation and chose a derogatory word I’d been called my entire life: Sidewalk Indian. Taking it back. Owning it. After all, having lived in Sacramento, San Francisco, Reno, Phoenix, and now Las Vegas, I was indeed a sidewalk Indian!
Rather than limit myself to Native American issues, I’ll share my past and present; coming-of-age and coming-out in a small town (about an hour’s drive) north of San Francisco, and as a two-spirit Anishinaabe living in one of the most-exciting cities in the world.
I hope you’ll bookmark Sidewalk Indian and participate in the dialogue by commenting to blogposts. I’m glad you’re here.