The city of Berkeley held its 27th annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow celebration Saturday, with hundreds of people coming to join the festivities.
The powwow — which was held in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park — featured music, dancing, contests, giveaways and a large market. The dances took place in a large circle at the center of the park, ringed by musicians and a large audience. Hundreds of dancers participated over the course of the celebration, representing many different traditions.
The dances included exhibitions by Hinthil Pomo Dancers and an Azteca dancing group, as well as a round dance between all the nations in attendance, during which about 100 people of all ages and backgrounds danced together.
Sharon Marcos, a campus senior and member of the Indigenous and Native Coalition Recruitment and Retention Center, explained that a powwow is “a sacred moment where different Native people from different tribes come together to celebrate their cultures through music, art and singing.”
John Curl, a longstanding member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee, explained that the current tradition of powwows comes from “a new intertribal culture,” which developed in response to the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which caused many Native Americans to move from reservations into large cities.
In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America, indigenous activists fought to make Berkeley the first city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day is intended to “celebrate the resistance and survival and emergence of Native people instead of imperialism,” according to Curl.
Nanette Deetz, another early organizer of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow, said the Bay Area was intended to be the center of major Columbus Day celebrations in 1992, and models of Columbus’ Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria ships were to be sent into the bay. Deetz said indigenous activists from North, Central and South America worked together to counter this celebration of the “colonial myth” and to fulfill the “prophecy that in this generation, we will have a coming together of the eagle and the condor,” birds which stand for the indigenous peoples of North and South America.
After Berkeley instituted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, indigenous activists throughout the United States worked to similarly replace Columbus Day. Over 130 cities in eight states now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Curl said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also recently declared Sept. 27 as Native American Day after issuing an executive order in June formally apologizing to Native populations on behalf of the state of California.
Celebrations such as the powwow are “part of changing the narrative going into 527 years of attempted colonization,” as well as an opportunity to “share what knowledge we did save for coming generations,” said Tony Gonzalez, a representative of the American Indian Movement-West, who has attended the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations since they began.
“Government policy before World War II prevented Native peoples from meeting and carrying on traditions,” Deetz said. “It took the relocated generation to start carrying on these traditions and telling the history.”