On Saturday, October 13, the city of Berkeley, California will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Indigenous Peoples Day, which formally replaced the U.S. holiday of Columbus Day in 1992. The feature event is the Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market, which is free and open to all. There will be intertribal dancing, contest dancing, round dancing and exhibition dancing, plus a wide variety of Native American foods and arts & crafts will be available.
The pow wow will be begin at 10 a.m. and run until 6 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr Civic Center Park. For further info, click here.
The Head Lady Dancer, Leslie Deer, is a World Class Champion Fancy Shawl Dancer. She has been a cast member of the world-renowned American Indian Dance Theater. A member of the Mvskoke nation, Leslie has been voted “Favorite Fancy Shawl Dancer” three consecutive years in a reader’s poll by the newspaper Native American Times. Her love of dance and extraordinary abilities have provided hundreds of hours of enjoyment for audiences spread across the globe.
The Head Man Dancer, Dennis Jennings, is one of the original group who started Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day 20 years ago. A member of the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma, he traveled with his aunts and grandmother as a child to pow wows, stomp dances and ceremonials in the 1940’s and 1950’s, assembled his own regalia in the 1970’s as a 25 year old, and won first place in Rock Island, Illinois. As well as Head Man Dancer, he has often been MC or Arena Director at pow wows and regularly gourd dances.
This year’s pow wow marks the 20th anniversary of the new holiday. The first Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley took place on October 12, 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the struggle of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas to retain their culture and identity under the extremely difficult conditions of European colonization.
The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native nations to a United Nations International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, held in Geneva, which passed that resolution. In 1990 representatives from 120 Indian nations from North and South America met at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, along with many non-Native human rights activists, and resolved to transform “Columbus Day” into “an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation.” Upon return, Indian people of Northern California organized the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and resolved to commemorate “October 12, 1992 as International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.” The final day of the conference, at Laney College in Oakland, was opened to non-Native people, and together they organized a broad coalition to coordinate 1992 activities with Indigenous leadership, called Resistance 500.
The Resistance 500 Task Force proposed to the Berkeley City Council to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. They presented research showing how Columbus sent shiploads of enslaved Indians back to Spain, inventing the transatlantic slave trade. Under his leadership, over a hundred thousand Taino Indians on the island of Hispanola were killed and the survivors were enslaved in mines and plantations.
In October, 1991, the City Council unanimously declared that October 12 be commemorated henceforth in Berkeley as “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.”
The first Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992 was commemorated by ceremonies, speeches, and parades, with exhibits and events in schools, libraries, museums, arts galleries, and the University. The first Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market was held the second year, in 1993. The Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow is now a Berkeley tradition. Every Berkeley parking meter lists Indigenous Peoples Day as a holiday when you don’t have to deposit a nickel.
Following Berkeley’s lead, other California cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, including Santa Cruz, Sebastopol, and Nevada City. Activists celebrate in many cities, including Phoenix, Seattle, and Denver. South Dakota replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day, and San Francisco replaced it with Italian-American Day. In 1994 the United Nations declared International Day of Solidarity with the World’s Indigenous People, but concerned about upsetting some member nations chose August 9, and in some locations annual celebrations have been held on that day ever since.
For further discussion of the origins of Indigenous Peoples Day in a conversation between event organizer John Curl and Head Man Dancer Dennis Jennings, click here.