Indigenous Peoples Day will recognize Native peoples’ history, build community

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On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we celebrate the unique gifts that Native peoples and cultures bring to the world, the values of sustainable and peaceful living, caring communities, respect for Mother Earth.

We celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day each year to remember when the native Taino people welcomed a group of strangers arriving on three Spanish ships off their coast Oct. 12, 1492. The Taino treated the strangers as honored guests, but — unknown to them — Christopher Columbus had claimed their land for Spain. That was the first day of European colonialism in the Americas.

The Taino had been living peacefully and sustainably on their islands as far back as the oldest memories. The Spaniards, in contrast, had abandoned the goal of living peacefully and sustainably in their own European lands. Instead, their stated goal was to voyage across the sea in order to conquer and colonize other peoples’ lands, to take wealth by force and carry the riches back to Spain. Thus began a cycle of destruction that continues in innumerable forms. As the proclaimed governor of the new land, Columbus oversaw the enslavement and destruction of the Taino nation and spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade. All for gold and wealth.

Throughout the Americas, and throughout the world, indigenous peoples have struggled for the past 525 years to preserve their ways of life and their lands, to preserve the Earth. In many ways, they have been doing it for all of us.

In contrast, the colonial nations’ primary concern for the past 525 years has been extraction of wealth. The “great powers” have struggled among themselves through unending wars over how to divvy up the spoils of our world — wars that continue today. Globalized corporate capitalism is the successor regime to European and U.S. colonialism, with the same goal of wealth extraction.

Our world will not survive like this. The only way we can move forward on this fragile planet is if we all learn how to live in sustainable and peaceful ways.

Such skills have been largely lost to many people because of the dominance of mass technological civilization. We need to relearn those skills. Fortunately, scattered around the world are people and cultures who know and practice indigenous ways. These people and cultures can be role models for us.

In the 2010 census, there were more than 48,000 Native Americans in the Bay Area (American Indians and Native Alaskans). In addition, there are large numbers of Native people of Latin American descent and Pacific Islanders.

The Bay Area is, of course, Ohlone land, and they and other California Native groups stand with us today. We in the Bay Area are fortunate to have a grassroots Native community, one that formed in the mid-1950s in light of the federally initiated Urban Indian Relocation Program, aimed at getting Native people off their reservations and into urban settings to assimilate them.

The Bay Area Native community has always been at the center of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Indian Market. They are the common element that has held us together for the past 25 years.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a time for people of every ethnicity to celebrate Native cultures and to learn more about Native peoples, particularly those closest to home, living in our communities, our neighbors and to gain deeper understandings of Native culture and philosophy through personal interactions. Above all, it is a day to honor the First Nations of America.

In 1992, Berkeley became the first city in the world to celebrate Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Communities around the country now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, each in their own unique way.

Every year in Berkeley, we hold a pow wow the second Saturday of each October. Why a pow wow?

Pow wows are at once both very old and very new. Drawing on ancient traditions that can be traced back throughout our nation’s history, pow wows became the central intertribal Native cultural expression after the resurgence sparked by the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island by “Indians of All Tribes,” a group started by Native college students. Among the founders of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day were veterans of the Alcatraz occupation.

Pow wows are cultural gatherings of Native people, with their doors opened wide to the larger community. They are times of interaction between indigenous people and all people, a time for deepening understanding and connection. Young and old of every ethnicity, everyone is invited into the pow wow circle to join in round dances. In the Indian Market, shoppers interact with Native vendors of handmade products, crafts and art.

We invite all people to join us this year Saturday, Oct. 14, in this free, city-sponsored event in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and celebrate with us this 25th silver anniversary of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The act of celebrating Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day means transforming humanity’s way forward, away from the dark road of conquest, colonization, exploitation and oppression and back onto “the good red road” of peace, friendship, respect, sustainability, a love for one another and our Earth mother, who sustains all life.

John Curl is a member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee.