Photo Credit /MIke Olivarez

Indigenous People’s Day was celebrated at events last weekend and officially on Monday, Oct. 11, as an official holiday.

Significant announcements were made and events held that indicated that at long last this country’s indigenous population of murdered, forced into boarding schools, buried in unmarked graves and neglected population is finally being recognized.

First was the replacement of the Columbus Day holiday with Indigenous People’s Day. It’s hoped that with its passage, history will be corrected and the atrocities present today on reservations and missing native women and the needs of urban native populations won’t be ignored.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a partnership between the California Truth & Healing Council and the Decolonizing Wealth Project to support philanthropic and community engagement, grant-making and narrative change.

“As we honor the perseverance, rich diversity and contributions of all Indigenous peoples today, California is advancing our commitment to collaborating with tribal communities throughout the state to make real the promise of a California for all,” Newsom said.

The governor also issued a proclamation declaring Indigenous People’s Day.

“This new partnership will expand the Administration’s efforts to engage Native American families in the important dialogue created by the Truth & Healing Council, helping to build bridges and begin healing deep wounds,” he said.

In a progressive move, parish priest Father Tom Elewaut announced on Indigenous People’s Day that the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura is in dialogue with Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians Chairperson Julie Tumamait-Stenslie regarding a fitting tribute and awareness of the deceased Chumash interred on Mission grounds.

Dialogue and planning are ensuing for a future electronic listing of the names and family relations that will be available in the Mission museum. There are also plans to erect a monument to honor the deceased Chumash. Scores of native people are believed to be buried in unmarked graves at Catholic Missions. 

The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in San Fernando has repeatedly attempted to get the records of their buried ancestors from San Fernando’s mission but has not received cooperation.

Grassroots Indigenous People’s Day Celebrated in Sunland-Tujunga

Closer to home in the San Fernando Valley, the first Indigenous People’s Day event was held in open space in Sunland-Tujunga. The event was attended by over 450 people that reflected LA’s population.

The event opened with a blessing from Dennis Garcia, an elder with the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. Their rural area was filled with the smell of copal, art-making and dance.

“Our participants included many folks from neighboring Indigenous communities including Tongva-Gabrieleño, Chumash, and Tataviam. We had a beautifully diverse audience in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, race. The event demonstrated that there is a desire and need for these spaces that uplift Indigenous people, their culture, and their contributions,” said an organizer Evelyn Serrano.

It was the first event of its kind in Sunland-Tujunga.

“The organizers ST Forward, ABRA and STVU, intend to make it an annual tradition, in addition to pursuing other projects and partnerships with Indigenous people throughout the year,” Serrano said.

“Everyone came together,” said Mary Soracco. “The best element for me was everyone coming together in a spirit of tolerance and togetherness, wanting to learn and honor Indigenous people.

“I was proud that a group of community members, which included Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks of different races, ethnicities and age groups, came together to dream up and organize this event after recognizing the need for it,” she said.

People left the event feeling good and saying it was beautiful to be there agreed Liliana Sanchez.

“It has been two days since our event and I am still absorbing everything I experienced. The beautiful human experience is almost unexplainable,” Sanchez said.

Serrano pointed out that Indigenous people have endured a cultural and literal genocide for centuries.

“That genocide comes with the erasure of millions of people from our history books, our collective stories, and from the future. But events like this make one thing very clear: Indigenous people are here. They have been here and will continue to be here well into the future,” she said.

“Their resilience, their wisdom, and ancestral knowledge should be uplifted beyond any one-day gathering. During these times of extreme climate change and social upheaval, we have much to learn from the leadership and knowledge of Indigenous peoples. I am proud of my community for showing up to learn from and support Indigenous people.”

There were some people who attended who had indigenous ancestors but have never had the opportunity to learn more about their culture.

Many people throughout the Americas, including Mexico and Latin America are indigenous but have folded into mainstream culture in the United States. They may call themselves Latino or Hispanic, but not indigenous which they are.

Among them was Judith Quinones.

“The best element for me was being able to explore and discuss a new part of my identity with people who share it,” Quinones said.

All that attended appreciated that whatever your background was you were welcomed and accepted.

“When people are free to express their identities, it helps everyone. It helps the Indigenous presenters to tell the stories and sing the songs and speak the languages of their peoples, and it benefits the audience, who learn about the Indigenous Tongva, Tataviam, and Chumash,” said Eric Santiestevan.

“They also learn about other Indigenous peoples who have come to live in LA. The audience had opportunities to dance with Tongva artists and Mexica danzantes, and that is something that can break down barriers of thought,” he said.