Since 1990, November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Throughout this month, we celebrate the rich cultures and traditions of the original people of the land that is now the United States, and reflect on aspects of their culture such as art, music, dance, history, and lifestyle. While looking back and acknowledging the past, Joey Montoya, a young advocate and student-entrepreneur within our local Native American community, is also embracing the present-day happenings within his culture. Last week, we sat down to speak with him one-on-one to discuss the ways he is currently trying to inspire and educate the South Bay population.
Although half-Native American, Joey’s childhood was more heavily influenced by the El Salvadorian culture of his mother. After his dad passed away, Joey felt the impetus to explore his indigenous ancestry roots, which trace back to the Lipan Apache Tribe in Texas. “My older brother started telling me about our culture and what it meant to be from our tribe. He taught me to always be proud of my ancestry, ” Joey says.
As Joey learned more about his history, he was motivated to start clothing brand Urban Native Era (UNE) (http://www.urbannativeera.com/) to express that pride. “We wear traditional regalia for ceremonies,” he says. “I thought designing pieces with tribal influences that could be used in daily life would be a powerful way to help make Native American culture more accessible.”
The designs of Joey’s T-shirt, hat and other clothing accessories, sold both online and at local events, reflect a blend of many Native American cultural aspects. “Since North American tribes are very diverse, with different dialects and different things to represent, I try and incorporate various aspects within my work to help the audience find meaning,” he says. His influences include his own history and family’s collection of artwork that has been passed down over generations, as well as the stories of people he regularly meets from other tribes.
In addition to his involvement in UNE, Joey also runs the Native American Student Organization (NASO) on campus at San Jose State University to help rally students around social justice issues currently facing the population, involve them in local pow-wows and other cultural activities, as well as help them define their goals and better prepare them for the future. He also works with elders in the community, and brings them together at regular intervals to discuss their needs and perspectives. In his work, Joey always remembers and embraces the diversity of his culture: at each local event he speaks with local tribes to assure their approval of his event and to possibly be apart of it. For example, when hosting events around the San Francisco Bay Area, he makes it a priority to always ask the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe to contribute a native song, dance, or other ritual in order to show respect towards them and to acknowledge that this is their land.