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I’ve Always Wanted to Be an American Indian Author(s): James A. Luna Source: Art Journal, Vol. 51, No. 3, Recent Native American Art (Autumn, 1992), pp. 18-27 Published by: CAA Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/777344 Accessed: 03-03-2019 17:13 UTC

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“I’ve Always Wanted to

Be an American Indian”

James A. Luna

I had heard this before, but

for whatever reason the

quote affected me not like

before: The White Man

looked me in the eye and

quite honestly said, “Gee,

I’ve always wanted to be

an American Indian.”



artist’s pages




The La Jolla Indian Reservation, where I live, is but one of the seventeen reserva­

tions in North County, California, one of over three hundred federal reservations in

the United States. It is a small reservation, as reservations go, yet quite typical in

contemporary Indian lifestyle. The reservation is composed of 8,541.25 acres, and

of the 532 enrolled members, 355 of them are living here. The majority of people

living here are Luiseno Indian, but we now also have other tribes, some that have

become part of our families. The tribal groups that are represented here are: Sioux,

Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee, Mojave, Diegueno, Cupeno, Shoshone, Miwok, Wailaki,

and Cahuilla. There are, at this writing, 121 dwellings in which we reside.




During the last five years on the

Reservation there have been and/or are now:

Two men who have lost limbs due to diabetes

Three murders

An average unemployment rate of 47 percent

Fourteen deaths

Five tribal members in prison or jail: One for thirty years One for ten years One for seven years One for two years or more

Cases of diabetes for 42 percent of the tribe

Seven reported cases of cancer

Shootings of four people

Twenty-one divorces and/or separations

Seven youths caught stealing cars

Twenty percent of the residents on welfare

Seven people admitted for mental observation

Two vacant government homes




AND.. . Thirty-nine births

Forty-five government homes built

A tribally run store and campground

A raceway built on a tribal member’s property

A developing volunteer fire department

Two people who have graduated with master’s degrees

One who has graduated with a bachelor’s degree

A tribally owned and operated water park

Four established artists

One singer

An increase in the percentage of high school graduates




There is much pain and happiness, there is success and there is failure, there is

despair and there is hope for the future. Still I would live no place else because

this is my home, this is where my people have come. I also know that this place,

like other places, is the reality that we Indians live; this is it. This isn’t the feath­

ers, the beads of many colors, or the mystical, spiritual glory that people who are

culturally hungry want.

Hey, do you still want to be an Indian?

JAMES A. LUNA, a Luiseno Indian, lives on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in North County, San Diego, California. His multimedia artwork in installation and performance can best be described as an “insider’s” view of con­ temporary American Indian existence.

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