Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow goes virtual for second year in a row

photo of the UC Berkeley campus
Sam Tilles /Staff
Recognized federally for the first time by U.S. President Joseph Biden, Indigenous People's Day saw its 29th annual Pow Wow celebration in Berkeley. The Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow was celebrated virtually for the second year in a row.

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The 29th annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow took place virtually for the second year in a row Monday.

This year also marked the first time a U.S. president has recognized the holiday, which began in Berkeley in 1992, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. More celebrations than ever were held this year in Berkeley, added Sharilane Suke, Indigenous Peoples’ Day Pow Wow coordinator.

“We’ve been celebrating for 29 years, but only in the last four or five years did it become recognized,” Suke said. “It was a very slow movement, such that (President Joseph) Biden recognizing it the other day was incredible.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín spoke at the virtual Pow Wow, which took place over Zoom and was livestreamed on YouTube. At the Pow Wow, Arreguín spoke about the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and ongoing Indigenous justice projects in Berkeley, such as efforts to protect the West Berkeley Shellmound from development.

Arreguín said during the Pow Wow that Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in Berkeley as a response to the federal government’s efforts to celebrate Columbus’ legacy with the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission. Instead, residents of Berkeley decided it was important to recognize the contributions of Indigenous peoples and tell the story of their resistance to cultural destruction.

“This land still is Ohlone land,” Arreguín said at the Pow Wow. “It’s critical that we respect and continue to protect Indigenous land from destruction.”

Last year, the Pow Wow was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Suke. This year, organizers deliberated on whether or not to return to an in-person event with live music, dancing and craft vendors, but decided in September to remain virtual amid concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19.

Performers were asked to send in videos of their dances, but Suke said the turnout was not as large as the previous year, likely because the event competed with in-person Pow Wows and other events held around the time. However, Suke said she was glad they were able to host the Pow Wow, and that it was worth watching.

“Part of your audience knows what’s going on, but some people have no idea what these dance styles are about,” Suke said. “Next year, we’re looking forward to doing it on the Saturday before Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the weather will be perfect just like it was here on Saturday, and people will be out in the sunshine having a good time.”

UC Berkeley also recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day with an email sent to campus honoring the federal holiday’s history and significance.

Suke said she and the other organizers are grateful for campus’s and the city’s roles in recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“Even if we’re fighting for stuff, we never forget to be grateful for what we have,” Suke said.

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila