By Carrie Saldo
The Voluntary Relocation act of 1952 was designed to decrease government spending on reservation services by transitioning Native people to urban living in cities like Dallas, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles – and Denver.
The impact of that move on Native culture is still debated today. By the time the relocation program ceased in 1973, about 150,000 American Indians had left reservations for urban areas. And now about 65 percent of American Indians live in cities across the United States. For many, the transition from reservation to urban life was a drastic change. Urban Rez, a new documentary by Lisa Olken of Rocky Mountain PBS, shares the stories of numerous American Indians impacted by relocation, a government policy that is rarely discussed outside of the American Indian culture.
Oglala Lakota tribe member Marilyn Pourier left the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and relocated to Dallas where she learned of tensions caused by the civil rights movement.
"We were just so confused, where we stood in this black and white world as Indian people," says Pourier in the documentary film Urban Rez.
Olken, who is white, worked with an American Indian film crew for three years on the project.
Olken and Urban Rez crew traveled to reservations and urban areas and while there chronicled a story that is very different from the stereotypical American Indian narrative of land loss, poverty and scant resources.
"This is American history. This is Denver, Colorado history. This is western history," says Olken. "And this is who we are as a people. We need to know this in order to move forward and treat everybody like human beings."
Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS and KUVO.