Indigenous Peoples Day kicked off their seventh-annual celebration in New York City with two days of free programming at Randall’s Island Park from Oct. 10 to Oct. 11.
The controversy surrounding Columbus Day came to a head over the past year as many called for an end to the holiday and the removal of many of the statues celebrating the infamous explorer. So, as floats rode Uptown watched by hundreds of spectators on Monday afternoon in celebration of Italian heritage, Randall’s Island held a very different festival.
Organized by Indigenous Peoples Day (IPD) NYC and several other groups, this culturally rich commemoration honored the role in Indigenous people have had in shaping the county with 24-hours of activities, inviting native leaders, Elders, medicine people, cultural performers and more from across North America, including Polynesian Islands, Caribbean, and other areas.
Historically, New York City was originally inhabited by the Lenape, and their lands were called Lenapehoking. Group organizers hoped the event would help shine awareness on the Indigenous traditions and history as well as rethinking the concept behind Columbus Day through song, dance, art, and prayer.
Monday morning began with a Sunrise observance at 7 a.m. followed by a Water ceremony. According to Netooeusqua, who led the ceremony, this service is performed by Indigenous tribes from the East River, pouring water from their own lands and giving thanks. “Water is Life is the message,” Netooeusqua said.
This year, the observance had even greater significance after Joe Biden became the first president to issue a proclamation on Oct. 8 in support of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society,” the president wrote in the proclamation.
The festivities included a Fire Dance by Mexican Nation Kalpulli Xochiquetza, a smoke dance, and a War Hawk Dance (showcasing how prey is stalked during battle). In addition, there were spoken word and rap performances.