Oral Histories

Interview of Alvin "Sunnie" Whipple

Member of the Lakota Sicangu band, born and raised on a reservation in South Dakota.
The American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Came
American Indian History
Biographical Note:
Member of the Lakota Sicangu band, born and raised on a reservation in South Dakota.
Coates, Julia
Whipple, Alvin
Persons Present:
Whipple, Coates, and Bernice Mascher.
Place Conducted:
Pasadena City College Library in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Julia Coates, interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., American studies, University of New Mexico; assistant professor, Native American studies, University of California, Davis; and visiting professor, College of Liberal Arts, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Citizen of the Cherokee Nation and served on its tribal council. Coates did extensive interviewing of Cherokee Nation citizens as part of her dissertation and post-doctoral research.Coates prepared for the interview by listening to previously recorded interviews in the UCLA Center for Oral History Research American Indian Relocation series, rereading Indian Country, L.A. by Joan Weibel-Orlando, and reading Reimagining Indian Country by Nicolas G. Rosenthal.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Whipple was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Came survey some of the diversity of tribes and experiences of American Indians who have immigrated to the urban area. Over 205,000 American Indians live in Southern California, almost 73,000 of them in Los Angeles County. In fact Los Angeles County has the largest population of American Indians in any county of the United States.
How Whipple was named and nicknamed – The name of his band and his ancestry – Born and raised on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota – Parents and family names – Grandparents’ occupations and how they died – Mother’s family were traditionalists – Maternal grandparents became Christian – Why grandparents converted – Tensions between the traditionalists and the “mixed bloods” on the reservation – Whipple and siblings grew up speaking Lakota as first language and immersed in traditional culture – The term “mixed blood” – Push for reclaiming of traditional culture in recent generation – Father was in prison – Difficulties of reservation life at that time – Interactions between traditionalists and mixed bloods – First time Whipple met his father – Limited interactions with paternal grandparents and other family members – Mother’s family had ranch that was gradually lost, sold back to the tribe – Description of the hospital where Whipple was born – In hospital with tuberculosis for first several years of his life – Left the reservation on “modern day vision quest” – Advocacy on behalf of clients in L.A. public health systems – Relationships between local tribes and those coming here from other parts of the country – Relationship between historical trauma and suicides in his own family – Impact of substandard medical care in the case of mother’s illnesses – Mother’s character and life experiences – Whipple's Aunt Mary was first to come to L.A. – Whipple's expectations of L.A. and first impressions – Divisions between relocated northern and southern Indians in L.A. Indian community – Thoughts on Lakota ways becoming pan-Indian – Comparisons of school experiences in elementary through high school and at public schools and Indian boarding schools – Worked for the tribe through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program in late teens – Arrived in L.A. on New Year’s Day, 1980 – Aunt had been here for at least 20 years already – First encounters with other tribes at Flandreau Indian School – White residents of the reservation – Earliest recollections of racism in the border towns – Father’s life after he was released from prison – Comments on Rosebud tribal government – Recreational activities as a child – Contemporary conditions on the Rosebud reservation.
Description of aunt’s apartment where Whipple first lived – Aunt's and uncle’s employment – Cousin killed in accident – Cousins' experiences in grade school – Communities were tribally segregated – Locations of Indian bars – Description of Indian drinking community – Aunt and uncle's social activities – Aunt’s reaction to burning sage – Mother's and aunt's different degrees of traditionalism – Disillusionment with Indian Center – Separation between northern and southern tribes most evident at pow-wows – Descriptions of pow-wows – Comments on contemporary Native identity – Description of recent Yuwipi ceremony in Santa Ana – Thoughts about transitioning from reservation to urban environment.