Monday, November 24, 2014

Project examining Route 66 effect on Native Americans

A van with a tour group passes through Route 66 in San Bernardino County. (Kurt Miller)

by David Olson
Riverside Press-Enterprise

Route 66 is probably the most iconic road in the nation, but few of the tourists and other travelers who drive it likely know very much about the original residents of the land they’re passing through.

A new initiative from the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association aims to change that with a guidebook that will steer visitors toward Native American cultural sites and educate them about Route 66’s effect on American Indian life.

Route 66 passes through San Bernardino County in its 2,400-mile journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, and a meeting with Southern California tribes on their possible involvement in the project is expected in January 2015, said Rachel Cromer, a spokeswoman for the tourism association.

“This is a part of the Route 66 story that hasn’t been told yet,” Cromer said. “We hope this will draw new visitors and allow people who have traveled Route 66 to experience it in a new way.”

The National Park Service is helping fund the project.

Many Americans and foreign tourists have a Hollywood-movie view of Indians as living in teepees, wearing headdresses and riding horses, said Virginia Salazar-Halfmoon, coordinator of the project.

Here in the Inland area, among the best-known Route 66 attractions is the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, which features teepee-shaped rooms.

Yet Southern California Indians did not live in teepees, which were used by some Plains Indians.

Salazar-Halfmoon said the guidebook will help dispel the teepee myth and other stereotypes and generalizations.

“There are 27-plus tribes that exist along Route 66, and many people don’t realize they have distinct cultural heritages that they hold on to tenaciously,” she said. “If people knew more about the tribes, they would be more aware of the distinct cultural heritages that exist and would probably have a more enriched experience on Route 66.”

Route 66 had a major impact on Native Americans’ lives, Salazar-Halfmoon said. For example, the road was used to transport many Native American kids to Indian boarding schools, she said. The federal government set up the schools, which were aimed not only at teaching educational basics to Indian children but also at eradicating Indian culture.

Route 66 also had positive effects on tribes, Salazar-Halfmoon said. The road created a larger market for Indian arts and crafts and exposed more people to Native American culture, she said. Artisans set up stands and trading posts at the side of Route 66 to sell their goods.

“Because of Route 66, they didn’t have to leave home” to sell their products, she said.