Oral Histories

Interview of Phillip Powers

Member of the Cherokee tribe.
The American Indian Presence in Southern California: Those Who Came
American Indian History
Biographical Note:
Member of the Cherokee tribe.
Coates, Julia
Powers, Phillip
Persons Present:
Powers and Coates.
Place Conducted:
Philip Powers’s home in San Diego, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interviews 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; Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Native American Studies, UC Davis, 2006-2011 Visiting Professor, Cherokee Cultural Studies, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK, 2010-12 Research and Special Projects, American Indian Studies Center, UCLA, 2013-14.Coates prepared for the interview by reading Joan Weibel’s “Indian Country, L.A.,” Nick Rosenthal’s “Reimagining Indian Country”, and many texts over many years about relocation and urban Indians.
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. Powers was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
3.75 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.
Birth in Muskogee, Oklahoma – Family home in Ft. Gibson – Mother’s family sells allotment, moves during Depression – Uncle Jack’s occupation and habits – Visiting uncle and father in prison – Great Aunt’s work with Red Cross – Father killed in World War II – Lived with grandmother in Oklahoma City – Grandmother’s occupation – Sent to boarding school – Mother moves to Washington DC – Sent to military boarding school – Family within the context of Cherokee history – Returning home alone on the bus from Washington DC to Oklahoma City as a child – Mother gets job at Tinker Air Force Base – Anger in childhood – Aunt worked at Sequoyah Orphan Training School – Mother also went to boarding schools – Grandmother rented rooms in the house – Negligible role of religion in the family – Relationship with Uncle Ross – Impacts of being in boarding schools – Mother remarries – Mother’s work, moving to Seattle – More boarding schools – Escapades with friends in Seattle – Mother divorces and remarries – No interactions with Indians in Seattle – Moved to Garden Grove when stepfather was transferred – Getting in trouble in school – Getting good grades – Rebellious, starting school in California – Finding long-lost cousins in California – Other branches of the family in Seattle and California – Cousin/friend later committed suicide – Falling in with some “bad guys” – Stepfather killed in car accident – Relationship between mother and stepfather – Enters public school for the first time in high school – Getting into trouble – Enters Carlsbad Military Academy to avoid jail – Some wealth at the school, big bands played at proms – What life would have been like if stepfather had lived – Impacts on mother of stepfather’s death
Graduation from high school and starting college – Difficulties with stepfather’s probate – Mother’s compassion for others – Mother’s Toastmistress activities – “Passing” in a white neighborhood – Mother’s involvement in the American Indian Movement (AIM) – Mother’s work in Frontera women’s prison – Patterns of compassion and advocacy in the family and self – Majors in philosophy – Joins fraternity – Priests prevent him from graduating – Difficulty in studying and remembering – Joins Navy reserves in submarine service, later enlisted – Girlfriend gets pregnant – Involved in surveillance at onset of Vietnam War – Conditions on submarine – Mistake in leaving the Navy – Married, daughter born – Wife’s family was Rosebud Sioux – Sense at the time of being Cherokee – Both families' lack of interaction with Indian communities – Gets divorced, ex-wife takes daughter to Alaska – Granddaughter has lived with him at times – Gets degree from California State University, Fullerton – Marries present wife – Goes to grad school – Has various jobs and settles in real estate – Volunteer work, first jobs as a social worker – Starts working in Child Protection Services (CPS) – No programs at that time for Indians – Creation of Indian unit in CPS by Nella Hamilton and Robert White – San Diego Indian unit becomes nationally recognized – CPS administration dismantles Indian unit model – Reconnects with his own tribal identity – Mother worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the Navy – Only times he cried in his job – Type of person who gets involved in doing this work – Kid he has mentored for several years even after retirement – How he became an expert witness, what it entails – Serves on San Diego American Indian Health board – Became chairman but quit as result of internal politics – Learns to play Indian flutes – Revitalization of Cherokee/Indian identity – Thoughts on Cherokee identity – Mother retired and returned to Oklahoma – Grandmother had come to live in California – The old homeplace had been sold – Memories of Ft. Gibson – The passing of his mother, grandmother, and aunts – Relatives bought the house near the cemetery where the family is buried – Speculation as to why mother joined AIM.
Settlement of Powers’ mother’s estate – Dealing with the spirit in mother’s house – Medicine and visiting a medicine man – Thefts from mother’s estate – Rifts with the family in Oklahoma – No other remaining family in Oklahoma – Another child in the family previously unknown.
Grandfather was an Indian doctor – Abilities passed to Uncle Jack – Observations of local reservations pre-casinos – Conditions of poverty on reservations through mid-1990s – Educational attainment and graduation rates on local reservations – Violence and poor relationships with San Diego sheriff’s department – Advent of gaming at Sycuan – Amounts of per capita payments – Impact of money on the recipients of the payments – Powers' work with families under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) – Tribes have built infrastructure and improved social services – Lack of Indian Health Service facilities in California – Gaming tribes’ revenue sharing with the state and non-gaming tribes – San Diego Indian Unit’s goals in placing children – Contrast with other places – Dismantling of the San Diego model – Speculating on the impact of increased tribal revenues – Recent cases that have gone wrong – Tribal responsibilities and misunderstandings under ICWA – Comparison of local and out-of-area tribes in their responses to ICWA – Tribes' differing abilities to take ICWA jurisdiction – Examples of tribes who have improved services and foster homes – Types of foster homes under ICWA – ICWA trainings held by Judge Thorne and Tribal Star – “Spirit of ICWA” applied in work with non-recognized tribes.