Society of Native Nations calls to end Columbus Day.
By Asia Andrews
About 70 people attended the college’s second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day ceremony Oct. 14 that closed out Raza Heritage Month.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was celebrated on the second Monday of October to recognize Native Americans. The observation overlaps with Columbus Day.
The Society of Native Nations led the event. The society is a Texas-based organization that provides cultural awareness, fights appropriation and promotes environmentalism, Treasurer Mayda Garcia said.
Executive Director Frankie Orona waved a small bundle of smoldering “sacred sage” over the audience gathered in a circle.
Sacred sage is an aboriginal plant used during ceremonies and prayers to purify the mind, body and spirit.
A concern about indigenous people is that they are often referred to in the past tense as though indigenous people are extinct or have been forgotten, Garcia said.
Indigenous people are still here, she said.
Joann Betancourt, a tribal council member of the Jumano Indian Nation of Texas, requested a day off of work to participate in Indigenous Peoples’ Day on campus and to teach her daughter, business administration freshman Mercedes Pastor, about her culture.
“People don’t know their culture,” Betancourt said. “Culture is getting lost.”
Rosie Torrez, secretary of the Society of Native Nations, gave a speech honoring indigenous people.
Torrez said Indigenous Peoples’ Day should replace Columbus Day to end the celebration of the conquests of a man gained through “genocide, pillaging and rape.”
Columbus Day is a federal holiday established in 1968. The anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage had been recorded as far back as 1792, but wasn’t celebrated nationally until 1892 when President Harrison declared it in an effort to ease tensions between the U.S. and Italy.
Other states in the U.S. have started celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day and are taking steps to change history books to more accurately show Columbus’ role in the shaping of America, she said.
The first discussions on changing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1977 when the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, met with the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
States such as Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Maine, along with many cities nationwide, do not celebrate Columbus Day.
Torrez said people crossing the border with Mexico are native people.
“On one hand they celebrate indigenous native people, and on the other hand they lock up native people,” Torrez said.
Juan Mancias, tribal chairperson of Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, spoke about “breaking the colonized brainwashing.”
He graduated from Texas Tech University but thought it was more important to learn “the education of the land.”
Land, water and air are important resources being compromised and infringed upon because of governmental seizures of property, Mancias said.
Governments now have to now seek permission from associations such as the Society of Native Nations to access private lands, he said.
“I’m not here to make the colonial mindset comfortable anymore,” Mancias said.
Mancias called attention to disruption of pipeline construction.
Many states, aside from Texas, have faced negative environmental impact because of pipelines, he said.
“We are being lied to constantly by the people who don’t understand,” he said. “We have to recognize these things are happening in our lives.”
Mancias said if people want to know what’s going on to immerse themselves in the culture of native people.
Lydia Poncé, a member of the Society of Native Nations, said the gentrification happening in California has negatively impacted some communities.
Not all tribes are the same and they do not all share the same languages and customs, but most of them share a common awareness for the lands that their ancestors once settled on, she said.
Most of the land in the U.S. was once owned by native tribes, and it is important to be aware of that when traveling to different places, she said.
Poncé also advocates for the removal of Columbus’ influence and the spread of awareness of native tribes.
When Columbus mistakingly arrived in North America, he looked down on the native people and referred to them as savages, she said.
Poncé said Columbus came to a continent that was already civilized.
As more states start to recognize indigenous and native people, statues of Columbus have been vandalized or removed.
“The U.S. doesn’t know what to do with the removed statues of Christopher Columbus, but I say burial at sea,” Poncé said.
Christa Mancias, tribal council member and secretary of the Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, performed an original poem called “No Longer Define Me.”
Her poem encompassed the growing narrative of Native American people in America and embraced her Mexican American and native heritage.
Laura Yohualtlahuiz Rios-Ramirez Kalpulli Ayolopaktzin, member of the Society of Native Nations, performed a dance in “Mexica-chichlmeca danza” regalia, traditional outfits for dances and ceremonies.
“There is such a genuine strength in being gentle, and that is why we need to warrior up,” Ayolopaktzin said.
She, along with Torrez and others, ended the event with a blessing of the four directions.
For more information, follow the Society of Native Nations on Facebook and Twitter or visit http://www.societyofnativenations.org/.