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Meet American Indian Heritage Month Local Hero Randy Edmonds

Photo by Ron Stein

Portrait photo of American Indian Heritage Month Local Hero Randy Edmonds, Nov. 2016.

“Say what you feel, from your heart and mind. Just say that.” That’s how Local Hero nominee Randy Edmonds teaches young Indians to pray at powwows and Native functions.

And that’s how he does most everything else — very direct, talking from the heart. That's how he answers interview questions.

Edmonds says he grew up as an Indian, and always was. And he says he still does “Indian things” now. This didn’t come easy, though. Early in his life he was sent to a boarding school where, he says, “they wanted to make us white people.” After high school he moved from his reservation in Oklahoma as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program. Through the federal program, American Indians living on reservations were moved to urban areas such as Los Angeles, where Edmonds went, and were given trade jobs or education.

“Most Indians in reservations pretty much lived in poverty — not a good place to live,” Edmonds said. After moving to LA and adapting to urban life himself, Edmonds directed a similar program to transport Indian communities to the West Coast.

While acclimating to city life, Edmonds recalls the disjointedness his peers experienced. His job was to set them up with housing, counseling and education. But some weren’t able to fully commit to their new life. “The language and traditions pretty much pulled them back to what they were used to. Some never made it, learning a new living style."

Edmonds had to fix that. By his estimation there were as many as 60 different tribal groups in LA during the 1950s. He created a powwow program — a gathering of Indian nations to sing their songs, dance their dances, pray their prayers, and do traditional things they do back home, but in an urban setting. “That way we can keep our traditions and spirituality strong, to keep Indians on ‘the red path,’ as we say, so they don’t forget who they are."

He never stopped this type of work, helping his fellow American Indians stay on the path. In San Diego, Edmonds founded the Indian Human Resource Center, which aims to develop self-sufficiency and determination among the Native community. And throughout his career, he served on many advisory boards representing American Indians — from city to federal levels. His ambition has always been to help those close to him stay connected to their ancestry.

Archaeologists have recorded as many as 10,000 American Indian sites in San Diego County, some dating back an estimated 122,000 years. There’s a lot to preserve. And Edmonds stays committed through Indian education organizations such as Soaring Eagles, along with 2015 Local Hero honoree Vickie Gambala.

In response to his nomination, Edmonds said it’s a great honor. The 82-year-old tribal elder added, “It’ll look good on the resume, too!"

American Indian Heritage Month Local Hero Randy Edmonds

See past American Indian Heritage Month honorees here.

Meet fellow 2016 honoree Joely Proudfit.

Questions or comments on this story can be directed to Nate John at njohn@kpbs.org.

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