The sun was shining, but a mild breeze kept temperatures tolerable inside the fenced off lot along East 14th street between Derby and 31st avenues.
It wasn’t even mid-day yet, but the July 2021 Indigenous Red Market was already well-attended and in full swing when I arrived.
Health professionals from Native American Health Center were on hand to share free community resources, vendors were selling arts and crafts and food, there was Native drumming and dancing, and contemporary musicians performed as well. Perhaps more importantly, there was an unmistakable sense of community.
“For me, the big thing is Native American connection,” says Carina King (Yurok) of California Native Glass.
King, who lives up in Humboldt County, is one of the dozens of Indigenous vendors who came to showcase their wares at this month’s Indigenous Red Market in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. Along with her mother, Pauli Carroll, King creates colorful, fused glass artwork featuring designs from traditional Yurok baskets—but the real reason she said she comes to Native community events like this is that she wants to meet people from other tribes.
King says that while her tribe is strong and is still on its ancestral lands, she knows that isn’t the case for all Native people, and so she purposefully seeks out events where different tribes come together. “I scour the internet for Native events,” King said.
The Indigenous Red Market, co-sponsored by NAHC and the Intertribal Friendship House, is free to the public. Temperatures were checked at the entrance, mask wearing was mandatory, and free sage was offered to all who entered.
The market events have been taking place since 2018, with the exception of a 14-month hiatus due to the COVID pandemic. This was only the second event since that hiatus, and organizer Noah Gallo (Ysleta Pueblo) says that the plan is to hold events quarterly going forward.
Gallo is the Human Services Coordinator for NAHC, and he says that the original intent of the Indigenous Red Market was to provide a space for the Native community to sell crafts and practice their culture. He points out that Native people experience healing while engaging in crafts such as beading and dancing, and the markets allow the community to showcase that artwork and culture. He calls the events, “a unique opportunity to provide a stronger, culturally informed approach to Indigenous health and well-being.”
The pandemic prevented people in the community from engaging in most of those healing practices, and Gallo cites that void as a reason for the large turnouts at the two events since the 14-month break (he says that close to 2,000 people have attended each event). Sure enough, all of the vendors and attendees that Oakland Voices spoke with expressed an appreciation for the ability to come together in community after the long disruption.
In addition to traditional healing practices, there were also plenty of modern health resources available as well.
A booth was doing outreach for CalHOPE Redline, a phone, text, and video chat warmline dedicated to connecting Native people with national, state, and county resource referrals.
NAHC was also doing outreach for COVID testing and vaccination that included giving out free PPE packs containing masks, sanitizer, and information about community resources.
American Indian Child Resource Center wasn’t just doing outreach for their youth and family support services, they were also selling sovereign seeds and native plant starts.
AICRC is a foster care agency specializing in placing Native children with Native families. Most of AICRC’s kids are from Oakland, but the nonprofit places them in families throughout the 10 Bay Area counties.
Joshua Hoyt works at the AICRC’s community garden in Fruitvale, and was manning their booth on Sunday. Hoyt helps local youth learn the “many generations of knowledge” about original foods, and how to make connections back to what their ancestors ate and used as medicine and at rituals.
“Indigenous knowledge about plants is one of the greatest treasures that Native people have,” Hoyt told Oakland Voices. “It’s important to reclaim that resource.”
Speaking of plant knowledge, Abby Roman of Little Sisters Bees cultivates local honey in Fruitvale. She had a booth along with her niece, Jennifer Aguilar (Crafty Jenni), who sells custom decorated cups and other mixed media artwork.
Roman says that she got into apiculture, or beekeeping, because she was interested in “saving the bees and contributing to the environment.”
She found out about the Native markets because her neighbors, Marisol Rodriguez and Francisco Sanchez, have been selling their jewelry and artwork at past markets, but this is Roman’s first time as a vendor herself. When asked why she decided to be a vendor, she replied, “I wanted to contribute to the community.”
Gabriel Patten (San Carlos Apache), was sharing a booth with his wife, Crystal Salas (Lakota/Mescalero Apache), who has worked for NAHC for 23 years. Salas was selling colorful, dangling earrings that she hopes will “make people feel uplifted.”
Patten, a plumber, was selling paintings and T-shirts that he makes at Where the Earth Meets the Sky Studios. The couple said that they were most excited about “visiting and seeing community members that we haven’t seen in a while.”
In addition to indigenous arts and culture, the markets also showcase Native foods that aren’t readily available elsewhere.
Throughout the entire event, there were long lines for frybread tacos from Bigfoot Frybread, run by chef Rich Martinez (Wintu), and bison kebabs and meatballs from Wahpepah’s Kitchen, run by chef Crystal Wahpehpah (Kickapoo). In fact, the line for the frybread tacos was so long that I never got to try any, but I did peep every plate that passed by and they looked incredible. I did get a chance to try bison meatballs with a spinach and strawberry salad, and found the meat to be leaner than beef, with its own unique flavor.
Because entrepreneurship has the potential to transform the Native American community, event organizers have also started small business trainings for their vendors to help build their business acumen and entrepreneurial capacity.
Overall, it was a lovely summer day in Fruitvale where I got to enjoy Native culture and saw a lot of familiar faces, and even got to reconnect with some longtime friends that I hadn’t seen for a while. That seemed to be how everyone else was feeling at the Indigenous Red Market, a sense of reconnecting with community.
As I left the market less than an hour before it ended, there was still a line around the block of people waiting to get in.
The next Indigenous Red Market is planned for September 12 in the same location at 31st avenue and East 14th Street in Fruitvale. [Update on August 19, 2021: The September 12 Indigenous Red Market will be postponed due to increasing COVID].