Up Close with Victor Rocha,Founder of Pechanga.net
I think people, for whatever their reasons, still underestimate us. But these leaders in Indian Country are just amazing, and you take one down, and another one comes in. And he's bigger and stronger and faster and able to leap tall buildings. The leadership is just amazing. This is a battle that they're stepping into that has been going on a long time.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was when I went to Portland in 2000, and one of our legendary leaders named Joe De La Cruz heard I was up in Oregon and he went to look for me. He found my mom--I used to take my mom with me a lot of places--and he sat there and he was very sick, and he waited for me to come back to talk to me. He told me, 'I have been seeing what you're doing, and I'm so impressed with your work. Just keep on going, don't stop, you're on the right path.'
Here was this great tribal leader, and he died about four days later. He died with an oxygen tank in the airport going to another meeting. And here was this man, sick, still going forward, and that's the leadership in Indian Country. If you're lucky, you have somebody that comes along and they tell you, 'You're doing a good job man, keep it up.'
And for me, I feel that there was something passed to me, a responsibility. And I take it very seriously. Because Joe was a great man, and the funny thing was I really didn't know who Joe De La Cruz was until after. Joe was one of the people that said, 'No you won't. This is our land.' They put up roadblocks, and said, 'You cannot use our land.' And the government was giving beachfront away, and they stood their ground, and fought tooth and nail and they got their rights, and they got their rights recognized.
Now the thing about leadership is a lot of us feel this is an honor. You are stepping into the shoes of great men, and so you have to be great too. Be a good person. I think there's a lot of pressure among us to be good.
If someone were out there carousing around, cheating, drinking, they would not have a lot of respect from the tribes. It would be like, 'What kind of character do you have? What kind of issues do you have to drink and fall down drunk and you can't handle yourself?' Everybody is looking at the next person to the side, and to the back and to the front, and saying, 'Do I measure up to them?' And it really is that way.
For more on the subject, see Leading Native News Sites and Native Journalism: To Tell the Truth.
P.S. I added paragraph breaks to this Q&A to make it more readable.
Below: The "cyber-shaman" in his cave during PECHANGA.net's early years.