Video: What's a City Indian?

Simon Moya-Smith
June 21, 2013

Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is lately our man on the ground in New York City -- the Island of Mannahatta and environs.

He is from the Indian nation with, arguably, the most newsworthy home rez: Pine Ridge has been thrust into the media and conversation of mainstream America with television specials (20/20 and Our America), documentary photography (by Aaron Huey for National Geographic) and film (A Thunder Being Nation), and even hip hop (Lupe Fiasco is a big fan of Chief Bone Necklace -- who knew, right?). If non-Indians are discussing an Indian reservation around the watercooler or over the dinner table, odds are it's Pine Ridge. Yet Pine Ridge isn't, and never was, Simon Moya-Smith's home -- he estimates that purely through family visits over the course of his life he's spent about two months there.

He has a strong Native (and Mexican) identity, but he was born and raised in large American cities. He's Oglala Lakota, but he's also a member of a different sort of tribe, a pan-Indian collection known as Urban Indians, or Concrete Indians, or Urban Rez Dogs, or City Skins. In the video below, he discusses what that means to him, and his concern over the divide between rez Indians and city Indians.