Courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle
by Brandon English | Contributing Writer
With regards to Columbus Day, many often forget to acknowledge the true pioneers of this country: the indigenous people who first cultivated the land of the Americas. On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 11, indigenous people of several tribes, along with Bay Area locals, congregated for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This event celebrates the legacy and traditions of various Native American cultures through music, storytelling, and dance.
In 1977, native peoples began to fight the celebration of colonialism and sought to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Activists hoped to expose the historical truths about the invasions and genocide their people endured and looked forward to celebrating indigenous resistance. Fast-forward to 1992, and Columbus Day was replaced in the city of Berkeley by a celebration and powwow that has allowed locals to learn about Native American culture and their presence in the Bay Area community.
This year, Civic Center Park in Berkeley filled with particpants as the celebration started with a speech by Peter Nelson about Indigenous Archaeology in Central California. He spoke about the history and ancestry of each tribe. In acknowledgement of what the speaker said, members of the indigenous and non-indigenous communities came together to start the celebration.
In honor of their ancestors and fallen warriors, a Gourd Dance was performed in the powwow arena at the center of the Civic Center Park Field. Drummers huddled around a mother drum and sang proudly as the men of the tribes danced in circles while shaking instruments and chanting. Surrounding the men, the women danced in place with their printed shawls in support of the men of the tribe.
In the afternoon, people of all ages and tribes paraded in their regalias, leaving the Berkeley community astounded. Feathers, headdresses, and intricate, colorful beaded clothing vitalized the powwow arena. Before taking photos, people asked permission of the natives in respect of the regalias they were wearing. Members of the tribes intermixed with the locals and informed them of the meaning and origin of their attire. Later in the day, open intertribal dancing took place in the powwow arena, which included not only the indigenous people, but also the local community. People in full regalia and street-wear alike joined together as the drummers continued to play.
Vendors sold handmade crafts, clothing, and trinkets that represented their culture for those who wished to commemorate their experience at Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And as the festivities simmered down, people shook hands and left, enlightened by their experience with such rich Native American heritage. With 22 years of annual celebration, ancestors of native tribes would be proud to see the strength of their community and culture living on and influencing modern generations.