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Indigenous People’s Day

by Melinda Alvizo

What is Indigenous People’s Day?

Indigenous People’s Day is a counter-holiday celebrated in opposition of Columbus Day. The holiday usually celebrates the Italian explorer who “found” the Americas in 1492 by landing in what is present day Cuba. Due to his poor navigational skills, Columbus believed he had found India and referred to the indigenous Taínos he encountered in Cuba, as “Indianos” in his journal.1 Much worse, his arrival marked an immediate and disastrous decline in the Taíno population due to the introduction of European diseases, colonization, and enslavement. Not long after his so-called “discovery”, the Americas became a desirable destination for European powers of his time. As a result, indigenous people across North, South and Central America suffered devastating losses in the process because of the Europeans. In retrospect of this catastrophic history, Indigenous People’s day seeks to reclaim the holiday by celebrating the culture and history of First Nations and Native American peoples.

ART INSTALLATION BY GABRIELINO-TONGVA ARTIST MERCEDES DORAME TITLED “A MAP FOR MOVING BETWEEN WORLDS”

“The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was born in 1977, at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas. Fourteen years later [in 1992], activists in Berkeley, CA, convinced the Berkeley City Council to declare October 12 a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People,” hence how Indigenous day first got introduced.2 Today, 13 states and 50+ counties and cities across the U.S. have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day Celebrations.3

In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom declared Indigenous People’s Day an official state holiday, joining many cities and counties in California, in replacing the antiquated holiday.4 This is particularly important because California is home to the second largest population of Native Americans in the U.S.5 While Orange County has no official stance on the holiday, its 34 incorporated cities sit on Gabrielino-Tongva ancestral land today.

OFFICAL GABRIELINO- TONGVA TRIBE EMBLEM

Did You Know?

The Gabrielino-Tongva are the first nations of the Los Angeles Basin. They have lived and occupied what is currently Los Angeles and Orange County for thousands of years prior to European settlement. Unfortunately, due to their exposure to European diseases and forced integration into the Spanish encomienda system during the mission period, their populations declined dramatically and never recovered. Later, during the Mexican rule of California, their peoples continued to suffer under similar and cruel conditions. As a result, their presence in mainstream society was slowly and effectively “erased.” Today, they face lasting consequences from this history including the terrible fact that many people do not know they exist. In fact, you are probably sitting/walking on Gabrielino-Tongva land at this very moment. Take a look at this video for more information.

An “Edible Landscape”

Orange County acknowledges that “the ancestral Gabrielino-Tongva arrived in the Los Angeles Basin before 500 BCE as part of the Shoshonean (Takic speaking) Wedge from the Great Basin region.”6 Experts believe that the Gabrielino-Tongva have lived in the areas that make up Orange and Los Angeles counties for well- over 8,000 years. As a coastal group, they relied heavily on the watersheds and rivers that once flourished near the Los Angeles Basin.7 “As archaeologist Brian Fagan [put] it, California was an “edible landscape.” Along the southern coastline, Tongva families harvested a steady and diverse supply of food.”8They were expert fishermen, basket weavers and barterers.9 They built expansive trade routes and cultivated the first prescribed fire methods to ensure that land was not lost to violent wildfires. Without the Gabrielino-Tongva we would not have our present-day freeway systems, as much of these highways (i.e. 60, 10, 405, 105, etc.) were built on indigenous trade routes.

HMOC and the Last Surviving Gabrielino-Tongva Wetlands

As part of our mission here at HMOC, we proudly preserve, promote, and restore the heritage of Orange County. We are happy to share that this heritage includes the Gabrielino-Tongva. As you may know, our beautiful museum is located in the city of Santa Ana which was once the site of thriving Tongva villagesknown as Hotuuknga, Pasbenga, Lopuuknga, Totabit, and Lukupangna.10 Our site is also home to two of the only remaining and federally protected wetlands in Santa Ana. Nearly 8,000 years ago, these same type of wetlands environments provided sustenance and resources for the Gabrielino-Tongva. In celebration and honor of this heritage, we provide nature walks (Note: these walks are currently unavailable due to the pandemic and our museum’s adherence to COVID-19 state restrictions) and a virtual tour of the beautiful landscape. If you are interested in learning more about our natural area, click here.

Why Should Indigenous People’s Day Matter To You?

Beyond the fact the United States of America was first home to millions of indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans, Indigenous People’s Day gives credence to the unheard and “forgotten” voices. Our nation’s history is irrevocably linked to this past and acknowledging it can offer healing and empowerment to indigenous peoples. As best said by L. Frank, an indigenous Gabrielino-Tongva, “…all you have to do, inside, is just acknowledge and say “Thank you for letting me be in your home. I acknowledge your existence.” So, we ask, how will you acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day this year? Although we are unable to gather in public, there are still meaningful ways to engage with this history. Here are some suggestions:

WATCH:

READ:

http://www.gabrielinotribe.org/historical-sites-1/

https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-tongva-map

http://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=a9e370db955a45ba99c52fb31f31f1fc

http://www.bigorrin.org/gabrielino_kids.htm

SING ALONG:

References

1.”Journal of Christopher Columbus, 1492″ The American Yawp Reader,

2.”Indigenous People’s Day” Unitarian Universalist Association,

https://www.uua.org/racial-justice/dod/indigenous-day

3.Willingham, AJ. “These States and Cities are Ditching Columbus Day to Observe Indigenous

People’s Day Instead” CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/22/us/indigenous-peoples-day

columbus-day-trnd/index.html#:~:text=Michigan%2C%20Wisconsin%20and%20the%20

District,European%20explorers%20reached%20the%20continent.

4.”Governor Newsom Issues Proclamation Declaring Indigenous

Peoples’ Day” Office of Governor Gavin

Newsom, https://www.gov.ca.gov/2019/10/14/governor-newsom-issues-proclamation

columbus-day20Gavin%20Newsom%20today,in%20the%20State

day20Gavin%20Newsom%20today,in%20the%20State%20of%20California.&text=Instead%2

0of%20commemorating%20conquest%20today,today%20as%20Indigenous%20Peoples’%20

Day.

“Indigenous Peoples Day to replace Columbus Day in L.A. County” Los Angeles Times,

https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-indigenous-peoples-day-20171003-

story.html

5.Soergel A. “Where Most Native Americans Live” U.S. News and World Report

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2019-11-29/california-arizona-

oklahoma-where-most-native-americans-live

6.”Tribal Cultural Resources” JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT GENERAL AVIATION IMPROVEMENT

PROGRAM PROGRAM ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT

https://www.ocair.com/generalaviation/docs/deir627/chapters/DPEIR%20627%20JWA%20

GIAP_4.9%20Tribal%20Cultural%20Resources.pdf

7.HERNNDEZ, K. L. (2017). An Eliminatory Option. In CITY OF INMATES: Conquest, rebellion, and

the rise of human caging in los angeles, 1771-1965 (pp. 17-19). Chapel Hill, NC: UNIV OF

NORTH CAROLINA PR.

8.HERNNDEZ, K. L. (2017). An Eliminatory Option. In CITY OF INMATES: Conquest, rebellion, and

the rise of human caging in los angeles, 1771-1965 (pp. 17-19). Chapel Hill, NC: UNIV OF

NORTH CAROLINA PR.

9.HERNNDEZ, K. L. (2017). An Eliminatory Option. In CITY OF INMATES: Conquest, rebellion, and

the rise of human caging in los angeles, 1771-1965 (pp. 17-19). Chapel Hill, NC: UNIV OF

NORTH CAROLINA PR.

10.”Tongva People: A Dynamic Study of the Villages and Locations of the Gabrielino-Tongva

Indians” Tongva People, http://www.tongvapeople.org/?page_id=696