In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month, KPBS and Union Bank are honoring two remarkable American Indian community and education advocates as Local Heroes.
La Mesa resident Vickie Gambala is a Cherokee Indian from Oklahoma, a devoted leader of Native education in San Diego County, community uniter, mother of three, and powwow veteran.
Gambala was nominated for the honor by Melisa Aleman of National City. In her submission, Aleman wrote:
“Vickie Gambala Cherokee has been involved with the urban Native community over 33-plus years. She serves as a great leader and elder of the Native community. Her biggest accomplishment is promoting higher education to urban Native students throughout the San Diego County. Even after retiring in 2011, she still continues to help Native students succeed by helping out every Wednesday at Soaring Eagles Family Night [where] she continues to preserve culture awareness and traditions. Vickie is a fine leader, a respected elder in San Diego as well as a role model to those who look up to her. In 1976, she was given the [opportunity to be] a director of the San Diego Unified School District Indian Education program. She is an asset to the Native community. She shows great dedication to cultural awareness, to preserve cultural traditions, and spiritual values.”
Gambala has led her communities in various roles throughout her years. She has served on the San Diego Mayor’s Advisory Committee, the former San Diego American Indian Human Resource Center, and the Council of American Indian Organizations of San Diego — in all these capacities, the chief goal was to improve the quality of life for the Native community and preserve its culture. Gambala also founded various women’s gatherings in San Diego, as well as the Soaring Eagles dance group. These groups aim to foster a stronger sense of tribal community within urban life.
“It’s a great honor to be chosen for this year. I appreciate the gesture from the community to nominate me,” Gambala said in response to the nomination. “Because it takes a community.”
Gambala said she hopes this collective gesture will continue to bring Native communities together in San Diego.