Published at the Garden Grove Journal
They came first.
They came first and tamed a wild, intimidating land. Once tamed, they took from the deep wealth beneath the surface of the American Country.
Back then, it was a place of golden valleys and rich, bountiful soil. With the coming of each day, they would give back what they had taken from the bounty of the earth, so that the ground would bring forth sustenance to their lives.
They were called People of the Earth.
Now they are Indians.
“The earth was put in motion, not fur one, but for all of us,” said Quoyauema Riley. “Unspoiled, it was heaven on earth.”
Riley’s Indian name is Quoyauema, which means sunrise in English. To his native Hopi Indian Tribe, his family were once primitive astronomers, and may have been descendants of the Mayans.
In any language, however, the name fits him well: Quoyauema does not speak of things violent or angry, but of beginnings, beauty and promise.
As an Indian, angry words could come so easily, about so many different crimes.
The rape of the land.
The lies told in history books.
The massacre of a way of life.
As a human, Quoyauema speaks words of understanding.He is an Elder, and like the others who gather at the Garden Grove Senior Indian Center, Quoyauema puts the past behind and talks with wisdom gained from a life lived to its fullest He grew up in Oklahoma with Plains Indians, and journeyed to California during the great depression. He became a man the way all Hopi men do: An initiation of four days and nights without food or water, a denial of luxury that turns boys into men.
After World War II, Quoyauema found himself in Hollywood, as an artist for the American-Indian Museum. Although his life has traveled down many paths, his proudest achievement came in Orange County, when he helped open Disneyland in 1955. To this day, he ha not forgotten the kindness of Walt Disney, and his memories are as if he had just finished the job.
What his life has earned for him is respect, not only as an Indian, but as a person. Because of that, Quoyauema goes throughout the community, promoting the center, teaching lessons and opening eyes about Indian culture. “The center is a place Elders can come to share in a culture,” said Sun-in-her-Hair, one of the workers at the center who takes Quoyauema to his speaking engagements. Sun-in-her.Hair’s ancestry races back to the Sioux Tribe, from Santee, Lakota. “We have no prejudice, all people are welcome, and many people who are not Native Americans come to learn about the culture.”
For Sun in-her-Hair, the centers also a place where seniors get respect “In the Indian cut tore, Elders are to be listened to, and respected, not put on the back burner like this society does,” she said. “The whole culture revolves around older people, to learn from and to service them.”
“You’ll see respect here, more than any ocher senior center.” Although the center is small, it is active, with members enjoying exercise classes, lunch four times a week, as well as arts and crafts. The center offers services that range from telephone reassurance and home visits to bingo, pokeno and pow-wows. The senior program is part of the Southern California Indian Center.
“The Indian culture still has value,” said Sun-in-her-Hair. “They are not a forgotten people.”Nor should the Indian people be misunderstood, and it is people like Sun-in-her-Hair and Quoyauema wh6 teach about their way of life. “We want the government to look after Americans, not Indians,” said Quoyauema. “We do not want a hand out What we want is a good education.” “The Indian way of life is about self-reliance,” said Quoyauema. “Children are taught by their grand parents, who show them how to be self-reliant, and do not spoil them, like so many do today.”
“It is like the turtle. He may be slow, but he is humble, never excited, and he always survives.”Quoyauema teaches how Indian ways are closely knit to the belief of one creator. “My uncle once said, without religion we are tumbleweeds, blowing here and there,” he said. “Without it, we have no place to go home to.” For Indians, home is where they once stood with pride; where they cherished the land and everything on it.
For the People of the Earth, this soil is their home, today and always. After all, they came first.