Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Marks a Brighter Future for UAII
The future has never looked brighter for American Indians in Los Angeles. And this was more apparent than ever on Saturday, August 27, when dozens of Los Angeles community members, friends, and loyal supporters joined UAII in celebrating the Grand Opening of its newly constructed headquarters at 1453 West Temple Street.
The ceremony marked a critical milestone for the organization, as UAII will now have the capacity for widely expanded client care spaces and a groundbreaking new Dental Care Unit, which has been in the making for nearly a decade and will increase UAII’s reach as a trusted resource for American Indians of all ages.
The Grand Opening was inaugurated by long-time UAII mentor and respected Board Member, Keith Veille (Blackfeet Nation Montana), who kicked off the ceremony with a prayer.
“Traditionally we say a prayer,” Veille explained. “The new building has been blessed prior to this. But today we are going to say a good prayer.”
‘Creator, thank you for yesterday, today, and the tomorrow’s a’come for UAII. I call all of our Sovereign Nations through the United States to send their prayers and blessings to UAII on this historic day.
I want to pray for all of our Elders, who have suffered through this epidemic…
Our seventh generation, our four-legged relatives, our two-winged relatives, and our relatives that swim in the ocean.
I want to pray for the veterans that are still out there in the fight, that they come home safely.
I also want to send a great prayer to UAII – the administration and the staff – to reconnect with their culture. This program is based on our culture. Creator, let us have one heart, one mind. If there was a definition for UAII in Webster’s Dictionary, it would be ‘Strength, Honor, and Resilience: UAII.’ Thank you, Creator.'”
As Veille left the stage, UAII Vice President of Development Joseph Quintana (Kewa) added, “Not only has Keith been a symbol of hope and leadership for our community and the organization, but his wife has as well! Omerlene Thompson-Vielle (UAII Social Services Manager, Gila River Akimel O’odham, Choctaw) has proudly served this agency for 40 years. She was recently recognized by Los Angeles City Hall for her dedication and service. Omerlene started her work on the streets of Skid Row, where Keith also started.”
Quintana continued, “Through the years, not only has UAII been a voice on behalf of our community, but we have also built strong partnerships throughout the city, throughout the county, even across this great nation of ours. Recently we were joined by the first-ever American Indian woman who has now ascended to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Holland… She joined us and thanked our staff for all of the wonderful work that they did throughout this global crisis, because I’ll tell you this – if you thought that we had the master plan on what to do during a global crisis, we didn’t. But we adjusted. We came together as an organization. We came together as a community. Just as we have always done.”
Honored UAII Board Chair, Dr. Andrea Garcia, M.D. (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Mexican), entered the stage. “The fact that I’m standing here today is a testament to our community,” she said.
She continued, “I was born and raised within this community. I was welcomed by the Pow-Wow Circle, and I took the dance classes. I was in the Inter-Tribal Student Council led by Phil Hale. I was taught by Ben Hale to introduce myself by my tribes. I owe a lot to the Hale family, but I also owe a lot to this community. You’ve always welcomed me and taught me how to stand into my power… The reason I’m able to be a physician today and to be (the Chair of the UAII Board of Directors) is because of you… I encourage you all to come up to me and to all of our Board members – to anybody at UAII – and let us know what you need!”
Dr. Garcia addressed the newly-constructed UAII building. “This is a dream come true,” she said. “We have our own building, and it’s only the beginning of the dream. We are opening some housing units – hopefully, it’s not the first, and hopefully, we’ll be leading the way in that very soon – and with the (new Dental Care Unit), we just want to provide the care that our community deserves. We have this beautiful building. Our community deserves nice things. Take advantage of it.”
Quintana added, “Coming through a global pandemic, many organizations were not so lucky. Many could not continue to grow and were not able to build like we are today – and we continue to expand our reach. Not only are we having a Grand Opening here, but soon we’ll be doing a Grand Opening for our Housing Project, which will be next month; and then we’ll be doing another one down in the Orange County region. If you’re from Orange County, don’t worry, we’re coming your way soon!”
Los Angeles political leaders and their representatives took to the stage to congratulate UAII on the new building and pledge their support for UAII’s incredible work moving forward, including Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (Wyandotte Nation), the first American Indian to serve on the Los Angeles City Council. O’Farrell proclaimed, “I found my tribe in Los Angeles!”
O’Farrell continued, “Everything we do is for this and the next generations so that they can have the esteem, and these young folks of Native American heritage can realize how incredible it is that they are the survivors of hundreds of years of genocide and somehow, through the strength of their ancestors, they lived to tell the story and uplift Native Americans here and everywhere else. I want to thank UAII for taking that message forward with this incredible facility… here in the heart of Los Angeles.”
He stated his firm commitment to working closely with UAII in the years to come. “My mission and the mission of my team is also your mission, and vice versa,” he said, adding, “(UAII CEO) Luis Cervantes and I will be working together to place solar and other carbon reduction equipment on this very building and on this very site. Saving the environment is not just a Native American imperative; it is a spiritual imperative for this country.”
Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo presented a Certificate of Recognition to UAII on behalf of the California State Assembly, adding, “This Grand Opening is so important to the work that is being done… The fact that this grew from the leadership of two women on Skid Row says a lot about the leadership of women and the role of women to ensure the success of our communities.”
Carillo continued, “Indigenous people remain resilient, honored members of our communities and our State. Your strength and perseverance is a guiding element in the path of building a better tomorrow for seven generations to come. This Grand Opening in the community of Echo Park… it is such a beacon of hope for what is possible.”
Photographic highlights from the event…
Hoop Dancer Sage Andrew Romero
Dancers from the Gila River Indian Community (AZ)