Twenty-five years ago, Berkeley became the first city in the United States to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, setting a precedent for other cities and states to follow.
Since its inception, Indigenous Peoples’ Day has helped to foster feelings of solidarity, dignity, acceptance and healing between the local Native and non-Native communities, according to Hallie Frazer, a board member on Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee and a descendant of the Quechua Nation of Peru. Frazer attributed much of the holiday’s success to the city of Berkeley’s continued support, without which, she said, “none of this might exist.”
“The implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day has created feelings of pride, heritage and education about what truly happened (because of) Columbus,” Frazer said.
Columbus Day was replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day per the request of Native American leaders, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The holiday was first implemented Oct. 12, 1992.
“Instead of recognizing some guy who came and allegedly discovered the land, we’re recognizing the people that lived here for many, many years long before Columbus arrived,” Worthington said.
To commemorate the holiday, the Berkeley community hosts the annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow, a daylong celebration of indigenous cultures. According to Frazer, the event was the first of its kind when it began.
After Berkeley first began celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the states of Minnesota, Vermont and Alaska have followed suit, while South Dakota celebrates Native American Day. Several other major cities such as Phoenix and Seattle also celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Worthington said that although the city of Berkeley “gets it” in its decision to replace Columbus Day, it still has a long way to go in terms of acknowledging Native American rights.
“It’s beautiful that Berkeley declared it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but I think it’s even more important that we recognize that this holiday and the people who are recognized by it exist,” Worthington said.
Moving forward, the city of Berkeley has made several plans to try to accomplish this. According to Worthington, the city is currently in the process of negotiating with the East Bay Regional Park District to recognize and protect shared Ohlone sites. The city of Berkeley is also exploring the idea of building an Ohlone museum, according to Councilmember Ben Bartlett.
The city also has long-term plans to install four bronze statues of Loggerhead turtles in a fountain in Civic Center Park, symbolic of the Ohlone tribe that once called Berkeley “Turtle Island.” For now, however, the turtles are currently displayed at Berkeley City Hall.
“The implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day shows that these changes can happen, and people can become educated about the truth,” Frazer said.