The most conservative estimates indicate that 80,000 American Indians live permanently in the Greater Los Angeles area, but Indian activists believe at least 200,000 are here at any given time, most seeking economic opportunities not available elsewhere.
Whatever the population figure, their prominence is being celebrated today in Santa Monica.
It's an honest-to-goodness powwow, with more than 100 Indians participating in dances and rituals that demonstrate their cultural heritage.
"A powwow is both a social gathering and a glorification of the warrior," said Glenda Ahhaitty, a coordinator of the powwow, which is part of the three-day Santa Monica Indian Ceremonial Show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. "Today's war dances honor those who serve in the contemporary military."
Dancers from the northern and southern plains will compete for titles and prizes, but tribes from all over the United States and Canada will make appearances in their ceremonial costumes.
'Arena Becomes Sacred'
Ahhaitty, a Cherokee from Oklahoma who with her husband, Melvin, has been coordinating powwows in the Southland for about 15 years, explained: "Once the dance circle is closed and the drums are brought in, the arena becomes sacred. Our oral history is found within these songs and dances. This is our connection with the deceased, all the way back to ancient times."
An Indian elder will explain what is happening during the powwow, and a program giving the order and meaning of the dances will be available; no tape recorders will be allowed.
The powwow, which is free, is scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. today on the lawn in front of the Civic Auditorium, but doors to the Indian ceremonial show and sale will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to the auditorium: adults, $6; seniors 55 and older and children 12-17, $5; children 6-11, $4; children 5 and younger get in for free.
On display and sale will be Indian-made jewelry, kachina dolls, rugs and blankets, pottery, basketry and leather goods. A special treat, fresh Indian fry bread, will be prepared on the premises.
The Indian presence is nothing new in Southern California, of course. Complex and highly developed Indian cultures have existed in the Southland's canyons and valleys and deserts for at least 10,000 years.
While rapid population growth in Southern California since the turn of the century has contributed to the loss of significant archeological resources, isolated Indian sites have been preserved. Here are several places you can still visit:
Albinger Archaeological Museum--More than 3,500 years ago, Indians began coming to this place seasonally. Archeologists have found the burned stone remains of their earth ovens, milling stones and stone bowls. Chumash Indians built a village on the site about AD 1500 and called it Mitz-kana-kan or "place of the jaw."
You will see a replica of a Chumash canoe and an ancient earth oven, circa 300 BC, as well as shell beads, bone whistles and basket fragments.
The museum offers free tours, lectures and films and a junior archeology program for children ages 8-12.
Albinger Archaeological Museum, 113 E. Main St., Ventura; (805) 648-5823. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Antelope Valley Indian Museum--Near a rocky butte in the heart of the Mojave Desert there was once a settlement of Kitanemuk Indians who made use of a year-round nearby spring that no longer exists. In the late 1920s, artist H. Arden Edwards created a museum there that now features Indian artifacts from all over the Southwest.
The museum's regular program includes movies, slide shows, exhibitions of basket weavers and a "touch table" where visitors may grind seeds, start fires and cook food in the ancient way.
Antelope Valley Indian Museum, 15701 E. Ave. M, Lancaster, (805) 942-0662. A large sign will direct you. Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the second weekend of each month except July through September. Admission $3 per vehicle. Special group tours also available by appointment (two to three weeks' notice required; 10 people minimum) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays. Admission $15 per group of 10 to 15.
Ojai--Ojai means "nest." In 1966, volunteers founded a museum to preserve Indian artifacts found in the Ojai Valley. Today the museum, located in the city's old fire house, displays grinding stones typical of the Oak Grove Indians. You will also see Chumash tools, including arrows and hooks made of bone and shellfish.
The museum's research library is open to the public by appointment.
Ojai Valley Historical Society and Museum, 109 S. Montgomery St., Ojai; (805) 646-2290. Open Wednesday-Monday, 1-5 p.m.