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Indigenous Peoples’ Day

An Afternoon at an Old Statue, and an Evening Spent Celebrating Native cultures around the world

Last weekend was spent celebrating local indigenous populations (read Haudenosaunee Nation and Lacrosse Games) and this weekend the Syracuse community came together to celebrate Indigenous people around the world instead of Columbus day. Monday afternoon there was a public gathering in “Columbus Square” in downtown Syracuse to call attention to Columbus’ brutal legacy of genocide, and ongoing settler colonialism (read Ongoing Settler Colonialism).

Later that evening there was a panel discussion at Syracuse University featuring Kacey Chopito (from the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico), Neal Powless (of the Onondaga Nation), Janet Flores (a Xicana activist from Chichimeca territory) and Pranav Jani (a professor of postcolonial studies, US ethnic studies, and Marxism at Ohio State University).

Ongoing Settler Colonialism

Chopito spoke about his experiences at Standing Rock this past year: tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, police brutality and state sponsored murder.

“I saw the legacy of Standing Rock play out. This is not 1817, this is now, in 2017. [This violence] prevents us our own self determination and culture.

…The biggest issue for the federal government is that we [Indigenous people] are still here. As an American culture, we often silence Native peoples’ beliefs and existence past the idea of Thanksgiving.”

The Doctrine of Discovery, established in the Papal Bull Inter Cetera in 1493 in response to Columbus’s voyage, granted the entirety of the Americas in the
name of Christian kings. It continues to be used in American courts to justify the theft of Indigenous lands to this day and there is a growing request by Christian churches for Pope Francis to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

“Greed, hatred and disrespect for everything that is sacred has got the world to where it is today. What we need is the knowledge and the wisdom of the living Earth. When I tell my peers that the Earth is alive and we have to take care of it- [non Native peoples’] eyes bulge,” Chopito stated.

Flores also reflected on the struggle to see her own people in American culture:

“It was hard to see the Indian in myself growing up when everything around me said that Indians are dead.”

Unity of Indigenous People

Powless, from the Onondaga Nation (who are the owners of the land that we stood on that night) spoke about the scared Onondaga lake, and how his Nation’s sacred site had become one of the most polluted lake in North America due to colonists exploitation.

“Tell me. If people wanted to go to go to Jerusalem and destroy the sacred sites, would you let them? When people came to pollute the Onondaga lake, you let them.”

He then spoke about the significance of the lake, which is where the five Haudenosaunee Nations met to agree on Peace, Power (love) and Righteousness (forgiveness- but not forgetting), which would become the basis of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy through the Great Law of Peace.

Flores encouraged the audience to recognizethat there is no need to differentiate the Latinx and Chicano people from the Native American people of the US. All are indigenous people, and all need to unite. Flores encouraged her indigenous brother and sisters not to spend too much time collaborating with the colonizer as she stated that “this has never worked before.”

Powless spoke about how the Haudenosaunee people’s matrilinear society has much to teach American society:

“Patriarchy is a culture of taking (such modern American rape culture), while Matriarchy is a culture of choice (the women get to choose their mates and lineage goes through women’s family lines).


Jani explained that allyship in regards to indigenous peoples’ struggle and their rights is about “raising consciousness,” not just “taking people as they are and singing kumbaya.” He also brought in the concept of intersectionality:

“It’s not just Indigenous peoples’ rights we’re talking about, but also the end of the fuel industry. It’s not just Black Lives Matter, but also gender equality...

The vision for the future doesn’t pretend everyone has the same experiences, but sees the links between all experiences.”

The panel urged the audience to be an ally, not a savior. A savior is a colonist who steals land, culture and trust and then forces Native people to adopt their new ways as a way to “help” them. An ally is someone who says that a Halloween costume is racist, speaks out about the real meaning of Thanksgiving, and stands in solidarity against new pipelines being built or land Indigenous peoples’ land being polluted. An ally is also someone who is in community with Indigenous people, as Chopito explains:

“Be cautious of over introspection. If you feel like you don’t know enough to be involved in these struggles, that’s holding you back from helping out. Just get involved, and you will learn.”

As far as where to go from here was concerned, Powless explained:

“One of us doesn’t have the answer. But all of us together can find an answer through forgiveness.”

Cities and institutions across the country are choosing to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. This year alone, more than 21 cities have officially changed their observance, including Kansas City, MO; Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; Portand, Maine; Salt Lake City, UT; Tulsa, OK, Nashville, TN.

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