Sidewalk Indian

Rob Peters photographed by Ginger Bruner

“Certain attitude adjustments are in order to maneuver successfully through the four generations of history during which Native peoples have been living in cities. The old urban folkloric perception that people from the country are bumpkins and city dwellers are by nature wiser, more-worldly, and sophisticated is reversed when the story is told in remote Native communities. Until recently, Native traditionalists, close to the land, noted that the sophisticated “sidewalk Indian,” the city slicker, more often than not was ill prepared to function in the traditional, spiritual, and natural worlds back home on the rez…Today many urban Indians return home to the rez for years at a time, questing for their tribal roots and spiritual destiny.”

American Indians and the Urban Experience (2001), Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

I first heard the term “sidewalk Indian” from my cousins on the Isabella 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 rez for Rio Vista, a small town along the California Delta between Sacramento and San Francisco.

It was here where those words meant to degrade would disappear, only to surface on our yearly road-trip back to the rez during summer vacation. 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.

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 the State of Michigan. Needless to say, I am very aware of my lineage and heritage.

As for having left the rez: I was a child and my parents had their reasons (which I’ll reveal in a memoir). Today, technology has made it possible to stay in touch with family and tribal members back home on the rez regardless where we’re at; building a bridge between the rez and the 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 Seventies and Eighties, 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 emerge, followed by Queer Nation, both movements confrontational in not only action but name. “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 stand for hours in Los Angeles, when Pride became Resist.

My previous WordPress blog – My Native Life – was said to be too Native-centric and one-dimensional, but it ran for several years and had reached 33,000+ readers a month. I was working at my tribe’s resort and casino and blogging from the rez.

When deciding on a name for this new blog I took a cue from Queer Nation and chose a derogatory term 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 Las Vegas, I was indeed a sidewalk Indian!

After a five-year hiatus from blogging I’ll be sharing my works-in-progress, including a much-anticipated memoir, Small Town Seduction, and long-awaited blog-to-book, The Saginaw Chippewas: Subversive Genealogy & Stolen Trust.

Rather than limit myself to rez-issues I’ll share my past and present, as an Out Native American living in one of the most-exciting cities in the world, and the journey from writer to published author.

Welcome. I hope you’ll bookmark Sidewalk Indian and participate in the dialogue by commenting to blogposts. I’m glad you’re here.

2 thoughts on “Sidewalk Indian

  1. Looking forward to reading your journey and insite of the effects on our men. LGBTQ and Straight.

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