It was about 2 p.m. at KPFK radio in Studio City. William Oandasan had been there for a while, plotting his radio program for the following weeks. Sitting next to him, his hair neatly tied at the back of his head, co-host Marcus Lopez was jotting down the outline for the day's broadcast.
In rushed Bunny Hatcher, dressed in a pale purple outfit, a string of pearls around her neck. The three made a few adjustments on the program's content for this day, and just before 3 p.m. they walked into the studio. No beads, no turquoise, no feathers, but nonetheless three American Indians going on the air at 90.7 FM.
And so from 3 to 4 p.m. every first, third and fifth Tuesday of the month, "American Indian Airways" hits the air.
Host Oandasan must wrestle with a dual challenge. First comes improving on the "moccasin telegraph," as Hatcher calls the word-of-mouth traveling of news among the 80,000 American Indians who live in the Los Angeles area. The second goal for Oandasan and his partners is to provide non-Indians with an informative look into the native American community.
"American Indian Airways" is not alone. Two other programs are broadcast from KPCC in Pasadena and KIEV in Glendale. But the rich medley of cultural topics, community news, music and political issues rarely addressed on major stations makes "American Indian Airwaves" unique.
Known as a Poet
Oandasan, 40, a member of the Yuki tribe of Northern California, began working on the show in February, 1986. Known as a poet, he received the American Books Award in 1985 for his volume "Round Valley Songs," published by West End Press. His other works include "A Branch of California Redwood," published in 1980 by the UCLA American Indian Studies Center and "Moving Inland," the poems he wrote while living in New Mexico, published by A Writer's Circle in 1983.
In August, Oandasan asked Hatcher and Lopez to join him.
Hatcher, 35, is a consultant to the Commission on Human Relations for the Los Angeles County. She reports on racially motivated crimes and serves as a link between the commission and the American Indian community. Hatcher represents, as Oandasan puts it, "the out-of-state Indian contingent" since she is a member of the Yakima tribe and comes from Oregon's Warm Springs reservation.
Lopez, 38, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, is from Santa Barbara and represents for Southern California Indians. He is also the vice chairman of Community Concern Indian Movement, a local grass-roots Indian organization.
The native Americans in the Los Angeles area form the largest urban Indian population in the United States. "If we were a reservation," Hatcher said, "we'd be second only to the giant Navajo-Hopi reservation that spans four states."
Spurred by Papal Visit
An issue that has that community buzzing is the Roman Catholic beatification of Junipero Serra. Father Serra, the 18th-Century missionary who played a key role in the establishment of the California Spanish missions, would thus come to the last step before sainthood.
American Indian groups opposed to the beatification charge that Serra, far from being a saint, participated in the system of slavery and death that claim were part of the missions. Indian activists opposed to Serra's beatification take issue not solely with Serra's status, but with the commonly held opinion that the missions were beneficial to California Indians.
Spurred by the Pope's visit to California, Oandasan, Lopez and Hatcher planned three programs around the topic of Serra's beatification. During one show, Oandasan read excerpts from "The Missions of California: A Legacy of Genocide," a collection of essays by historians and anthropologists denouncing the misrepresentation of the mission system by the Catholic church. The book is edited by Ruppert and Jeannette Costo and published by the Indian Historian Press in San Francisco.
"Their opposition is unfounded and historically inaccurate," Father Thom Davis of the San Fernando Mission said.
"Once California Indians became Catholics, they also became full-fledged Spanish citizens," Davis said. "The Spanish gave the native people of the Americas their faith, their culture, and they intermarried with them. It's idiotic to think that, had the Spanish not come, they would still be today prancing around the happy hunting grounds."
Oandasan says such comments confirm his belief that Americans need to be better informed about Indians. The interest in people and things American Indian, he says, is too often either macabre, because it focuses on museum artifacts, remains of the past or smacks of exoticism.
"It's like blue corn tortillas. All of a sudden somebody let the mainstream know that, yes, blue corn is valued and good. People who want to show they know something about American Indians say, 'Oh, yes, we know about blue corn.' And it just snowballs like the rest of the trendy things.
Blue Corn Chips