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"Inspiring and Unique:" Redbird Brings Native American Wisdom to Environmental and Community Issues

By S. Mathur

Red Bird is a Native American non-profit organization concerned with environmental and educational issues, and with supporting and creating community. A central goal is to bridge the gaps in understanding between native and non-native cultures, in California's Simi Valley and beyond. Founder Corina Roberts recalls that Red Bird came into existence as part of her own journey of discovery. As an urban Native American, she was barely aware of her own heritage.

Roberts recalls, "Redbird came into being at the Simi Valley Library in 1990, with an exhibit called 'Spirits in the Material World - Native Americans Today.'" The goal of the exhibit was to combine short essays, traditional and contemporary artwork that would help people understand how Native Americans contributed to today's "social fabrics," as Roberts calls them.

"We didn't know we were starting a nonprofit," says Roberts. "We were urban Indian people who had never met before, coming together for the first time, inspired by the possibility of creating something inspiring and unique."

Over the years, Redbird's mission has expanded to include community issues, environmental stewardship, transitional housing for elders, and genealogical and cultural research and knowledge sharing. Redbird's signature event is the annual Children of All Colors powwow, held in the third week of July at Moorpark College in Ventura County, California. This year's powwow will take place on July 17-19.

Roberts describes the powwow as, "Native American singing, dancing, drumming, arts, crafts, food, traditional dwellings, storytellers and more will fill the weekend. This is a family-friendly weekend and everyone is welcome."

In 2011, Redbird opened the Chilao School in the Angeles National Forest and the newly created San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, the School runs cultural and environmental programs related to the preservation and healing of the ancestral lands. Redbird has taken on more and more environmental stewardship activities, changing its mission statement to include "and to create a sustainable future."

As wildfires and drought increasingly ravage the forests of California and the western states, Redbird's environmental initiatives prove the relevance and necessity of Native American knowledge and practices. This is demonstrated in the Piñon Project, when the U.S. Forest Service turned to Redbird for seeds and knowledge to plant and care for the trees in the Angeles National Forest.

Another cherished goal for Redbird is to create transitional and end of life housing for elders and their caregivers. It remains a work in progress. In December, the annual blanket, toys, and school supplies drive turns into a mini powwow, while collecting much-needed materials for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Over the years, Redbird's mission has expanded from being cultural ambassadors to include community concerns and environmental stewardship. The name Redbird is of great significance to the organization and particularly to Roberts, as it is her given name. Deriving from a Native American story about a bird who saved a wolf from going blind, it values courage and kindness. It offers inspiration not only to Redbird but to all who come to know about its work and mission.

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