Berkeley community members gather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day

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Aditi Raghunath/File

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Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park was filled with the sounds of drumming and the bustle of vendors Saturday as community members gathered to celebrate the Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market, a daylong celebration of indigenous culture.

The event commemorated the 24th anniversary of Indigenous Peoples Day, which was first celebrated by the city of Berkeley on Oct. 12, 1992. The celebration began with a blessing of the grounds and featured food vendors, craft stalls and a number of contests and dance displays throughout the day.

“I think that we have a strong and flourishing native community in the Bay Area,” said Sabah Williams, a first-year member of the Indigenous Peoples Day Committee. “It’s really nice to see such a great turnout and to see new native people joining.”

The powwow theme this year was “Standing with Standing Rock,” in solidarity with the recent protests to protect water and land rights for indigenous people in North and South Dakota. Committee members also emphasized the powwow’s overall goal to create a sense of community with the celebration, both within the indigenous community and in Berkeley at large.

Sacheen Littlefeather, head judge of the powwow, said recognition was extremely important for the indigenous community.

“We are the first environmentalists and kept this, our mother earth, pristine,” Littlefeather said. “We are celebrating American Indian peoples and our contributions to this land.”

Berkeley was the first American city to establish an Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day, after indigenous groups and supporters came together to successfully urge City Council to establish the holiday. Since then, numerous cities and two states across the country now have their own holidays honoring indigenous communities. Columbus Day remains a national holiday, however, and cities such as Cincinnati have recently rejected proposals to establish Indigenous Peoples Days.

Gino Barichello, event coordinator for the powwow, is of both Italian and Native American heritage and said misunderstandings can occur between the two groups about what Indigenous Peoples Day means.

“We want people to know Native Americans are survivors, that we still participate in our tribal dances, practice languages, have tribal arts and foods and regalia,” Barichello said. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate that – to claim this day in honor of the cultures that are still here and present today.”

Hallie Frazer, vendor coordinator for the event and a member of the Indigenous Peoples Day Committee, said the powwow is empowering to the community and has served to tighten the indigenous community as a whole.

According to Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who attended the event and authored this year’s proclamation to declare the holiday, recognition for indigenous communities is still lacking in Berkeley, and the powwow serves to “raise better awareness for the broader community of indigenous people.”

Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @cbell_DC.