Berkeley Celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day

Contact Katlyn Carter at [email protected]

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Bells jingled, feathers flew and chants rang out at Berkeley's 14th annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, which drew hundreds of supporters to Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Saturday.

The city-sponsored event featured dozens of vendors and dance performances from American Indian tribes across the Bay Area and the country in honor of the Oct. 12 Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.

The holiday is the first of its kind in the country-since 1991, the Berkeley City Council has been one of few city governments nationwide to proclaim the Saturday nearest Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

After the United Nations declared Aug. 9 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples in 1993, Bay Area-based coalition Resistance 500, which advocates awareness of American Indian history, urged the city of Berkeley to observe the holiday closer to Columbus Day instead.

In Berkeley, both have been designated citywide holidays.

"I'm sure there's some people that prefer to celebrate Columbus Day, but generally I think (Indigenous People's Day) is broadly supported," said Councilmember Max Anderson.

According to John Curl, a member of the event's planning committee, promoting awareness of American Indian culture is a unique process because the Bay Area's many tribes combine to create a new intertribal culture.

As part of a government program to integrate American Indians into the work force during World War II, American Indians from a variety of tribes were moved to the Bay Area. The result was a blending of tribal cultures, Curl said.

"Many native people came off the reservation and they developed a new urban, intertribal culture," he said.

But not everyone at Saturday's celebration was aware of the holiday's long history.

Audrey Chrisler, a Berkeley High senior, strolled the open market with her mother as an assignment for her environmental science class. Chrisler said she had never heard of the event before, but expressed interest in learning about the culture.

"It's great," she said. "It's so fun seeing everyone's outfits and hearing the music and learning about different people."

The celebration also drew participants from outside the state. Cisa Loja, a member of the Quaechae and Cuni tribes, traveled from New Mexico to staff a booth selling handmade artwork that she and her family made.

Curl said honoring the American Indian culture is not only about preserving the past but also improving current and future interracial relations.

"It's about native people, but it's about a lot more than that," Curl said. "It's about the world."


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