Oral Histories

Interview of Michael McLaughlin

Citizen of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and director of the American Indian Resource Center of the Huntington Park Library.
The American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Came
American Indian History
Biographical Note:
Citizen of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and director of the American Indian Resource Center of the Huntington Park Library.
Coates, Julia
McLaughlin, Michael
Persons Present:
Coates and McLaughlin.
Place Conducted:
Huntington Park Library in Huntington Park, 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, UC, 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. McLaughlin 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.
Heritage, birthplace, and parents – Location, history, and description of Winnebago reservation – History of Winnebago removals – Description of Sioux City – Mother came to Sioux City to work – Racial and geographic stratification of the reservation – History of Christian missionizing on the reservation – Thoughts on reasons for the stratification – Speculation on possible corruption and violence enacted on Indians by nearby towns – Experience of intimidation of great-uncle and –aunt – Parents’ interracial relationship in tense social climate – Growing up in Sioux City – Impacts of mother’s drinking – Taken to children’s jail unit – Goes to live with great-aunt – Describes Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)’s promotion of relocation – Great-uncle and grandmother were already in Los Angeles – Participated in pow-wows and ceremonies on the reservation – Grandfather gives him a ceremonial name – Impacts of Public Law 280 on the Winnebago reservation – Tensions between whites and Winnebagos and among the Winnebagos themselves – Character of the Winnebago tribal government – Tribe was terminated between late 1950s and 1983 – Lack of federal records of the tribe from the 1960s through the 1980s – Tribal employment and economic situation on the reservation – Reaction to being told the family was moving to L.A. – Arrived on Christmas Eve, lived with great-uncle – Description of the journey to L.A. – Description of South Glendale, great-uncle’s house – First impressions of L.A,. comparisons to Sioux City – Great-uncle's and mother’s employments – Mother’s drinking continues – Moved to downtown, Echo Park areas – Mother sought assistance from War on Poverty programs after BIA abandonment – Family had few interactions with Indian community – Description of some activities with other Indians – Recalls a Navajo neighbor’s culture shock – Relatives sometimes visited – Most family members have been dispersed from the reservation – Mother remarried several times, brother was born – Going to school in Glendale – Most friends don’t know that he is Indian – Aspects of relocation program in dispersing Indians throughout the city – Dropped out of high school – Racist incidents in Glendale – Became part of emerging youth culture in Hollywood – Descriptions of the “scene” – Experiences as part of the “sex, drugs, and rock” party circuit – Trades on his Indian identity to enhance desirability – Spends periods in Glendale cleaning up – Scene begins to break down into more hardcore elements – Becomes more alcoholic – Tries to get legitimate jobs – Introduced to UCLA’s High Potential Program, enters UCLA – Continued to drink.
Reasons for being at UCLA – Didn’t give school priority – Didn’t stay long enough at anything or get close to anyone – Discusses sense of purposelessness, listlessness – Describes the transient lifestyle of this era – Analyzes reactions to concert- and celebrity-related experiences he had during this era – Describes experiences with individuals he speculates were government agents – Describes people and experiences from his young adulthood in Hollywood – Types of jobs he had – Annual stays in detox throughout fourteen years – Experiences with counselors – Life-changing experience in detox at age 31 – Recognition that he had been cared for throughout his life – How he got his first sponsor – “Ghosts” of his past are still in the area when he visits Hollywood-Silver Lake – Family had moved to San Francisco – Discusses his sense that he was unable to live independently – New job at a law firm opens new ways of thinking for him – Begins to recognize his skills and talents – Sponsor directs him back to school as part of making amends – How his interest in history developed – How each experience contributed to seeing life differently – Remarks about the nature of the law firm he worked for – Removed from Indian life and community during his 20s and 30s – Why Indians don’t participate more in “Indian” life in L.A. – Wanted to be more involved in legislative matters – Became active with the Democratic Party – Becomes interested in differential impact of legislation on the wealthy and the poor – Begins to work for the county government at City Hall – Describes some of the city’s historic documents that he worked with – Was prompted to go to library school at UCLA for a graduate degree – Worked on a thesaurus for a major eastern tribe – Got second master’s in American Indian studies/history and law – Become more involved with Indians through UCLA – Reflections on what has transpired in his life – Ties it back to his naming ceremony as a child – Grateful for the experiences and the ability to share his gratitude – Will remain involved with Indian community and issues after he retires – Remarks on the differences between social drinkers and alcoholics – Involvement with community groups begins in 1999 after getting a job at Huntington Park Library – Interviewed for and was offered several jobs after graduation from UCLA – Experiences as an intern in Washington, D.C. – Reflection on the nature of Washington, D.C. – Reflections on people in Washington, D.C.'s lack of knowledge of Indians – Description of his experiences researching Winnebago allotment records – Memory from childhood on the reservation of trying to contact the BIA for records – Reflections on grandparents’ generation’s life on the reservation – Why people wanted to leave the reservation – The mission, history, function, and restrictions of the Huntington Park Library's American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) as part of the Los Angeles County library system – Some of the current projects he is working on for AIRC – Regional Indian groups were compartmentalized, stuck in time, and didn’t get along in the past – Younger people are moving things in a different direction – Comparisons between thinking of the older and younger generations – Reflections on the identity and survival of urban Indians – No one in his family returned to the reservation – Mother’s and brother’s ashes are scattered on the reservation, grandmother’s in San Francisco Bay – Uncle in Lancaster, California writes an opinion piece for the tribal newspaper – Doesn’t keep in touch with his cousins, except one – Possibilities for when he retires and moves to Palm Springs – Thoughts about the interviewing project – Reflections on the “plan” of his life