Tuesday, October 10, 2017

UCLA: Why Indigenous Peoples' Day?

An indigenous UCLA graduate gives his input on Indigenous People’s Day
"We need to honor who was really here and stop honoring some maniac who was genocidal"

First annual celebration at UCLA
Earlier this year in August, the city of Los Angeles replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. This decision was monumental, as it replaced Columbus Day with a day celebrating the people he victimized.
The Tab UCLA asked UCLA graduate and Native American Dhr. Seven (member of the Kizh/Tongva tribe) about the importance of Indigenous People's Day, the celebration UCLA held today, and how we can better improve the way Indigenous Peoples are represented. 
For those who may not know, why is it significant or important that Columbus Day was replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day?
[Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day] was a two-step process. Step 1 was to abolish Columbus Day, because what does it celebrate? It should be called "Genocide Commemoration Day." Step 2 was replace it with Indigenous People's Day.

The fact is that all the things we're taught Columbus did he didn't even do. We hide the fact that he was a terrorist who committed crimes against humanity with the euphemism "explorer." He only made it as far as the Caribbean, which was a Native trading route already, and there were a lot of people there.  He wasn't the first European to arrive or anything. And how did he treat the Tainos, whom he met with? He wrote of them, "These are the nicest people I've ever met. They're so sweet. It's going to be so easy to enslave them."

He comes over from Europe, and he has this mentality. I don't think he was on his way to India. I think he was on his way to enslave a populace or create an outpost to extract resources for Europe. And he did that. So that's what we're going to honor -- the mentality of imperial colonialism in America? Fight the Spanish Empire and then we go over and make a colony out of the Philippines? I mean, this imperialist attitude is what we inherited [from Spain and England]. And who got displaced in all of this? Indigenous peoples! The largest genocide in the world, according to RT.com, is the ongoing Native American genocide. So whites, Europeans, killed these people, and no one says anything about it now.

LA City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, Pat Lopez, Chrissie Castro, Shannon Seed (MILA)
Interestingly, the City of Los Angeles started around the San Gabriel Mission. The first time the LA City Council met, the first order of business was putting a price on Native American (Tongva) heads. Five cents. People would bring barrels, wheelbarrows, and collect heads for five cents. That was the first thing. This is not a fantasy. This is the reality that can be looked up.

Not until you read Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States do you even get a taste of any of this other information, because usually it's all been whitewashed by well-meaning people who read things that other whites wrote. 
We need to honor who was really here and stop honoring some maniac who was genocidal. It wasn't just that somebody came and accidentally gave people diseases and made a capitalist outpost. I mean, that he came to enslave, to rape, and to denigrate, and to utterly destroy -- to me it seems worse, worse that he wanted to enslave people, because all the people died from not cooperating with the enslavement process.
Indigenous People's Day celebration at UCLA
Indigenous People's Day celebration 2017 at UCLA, October 8, 2017

What is something that you would want non-Indigenous peoples to know about Indigenous Peoples today?
Well, one Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and another woman, Dina Gilio-Whitaker wrote another book saying "All the Real Indians Died Off": And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. That's the title, because there are 20 myths people believe, and one is that they think there are no more Native Americans, and there are, almost pure-blooded.
This was Mexico, this was Alta (Upper) California, and at that time, probably the…indigenous language of Mexico was Nahuatl. All of those people are still here, all those bloodlines. Nearly every white person says s/he is 1/20th Cherokee or something. So it's all seeped in, blended, and people act like it's invisible.

If you look around, if you look at those people [performing out here under Janss Steps], they don't look Native American, right? Some of them can just pass for white, so people think, 'Tongva Land is not here. It's not a problem; no one remembers.' This is the history we weren't taught. Why resurrect the dead? It's like, you need some truth and reconciliation. And I think until people realize that it's not just like a joke or another group that kind of blended in -- I mean, they tried to wipe the people out, and they didn't successfully wipe them out. So there's a chance to have it back, have some fairness.
What if you just honored the treaties starting from now? Even that's too much to ask! Some fairness.

How has this particular event here at UCLA gone and how can we improve it?
I think it's amazing that Chrissie Castro was sending out emails about all of us going down to the A City Council.  I had been there for the Occupy Movement on the lawn, and I didn't know, 'Oh, here's the LA City Council. Decisions actually get made in this building.'

You just think the old building's like a landmark. For the first celebration to end up here at UCLA, I thought, 'Well, this is going to be a bunch of students elevating it to a big celebration better than Columbus Day.' But this first annual celebration at Fowler Museum and here under the steps was like a concentrated, sort of 'launch party.' So it was really amazing to have the American Indian Studies Department involved, to have the Fowler involved.
You now, I used to fantasize that we could go back, throw the invading people who came off the land and go back to the old ways. Well that's not going to happen. We're all embedded here now. But will people rise and be respected as that? Or will it be whites sort of saying, 'We'll write your history for you.' So instead it's like bringing the Indigenous back into writing the history, like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's book. You have to read it.
And I'm not sure how this day is spelled. Because I thought it was "Indigenous People's Day," which would mean it was the Kizh/Tongva people (my people), the Chumash, and the Tataviam, or the Acjachemen of Orange County, that these were the people being honored today.

But Chrissie Castro is Navajo, I think she said, and so then it might be spelled "Indigenous Peoples' Day," multiple peoples, because there were 100 million people here when Columbus arrived or when he touched land in the Caribbean and left or when other Europeans arrived. It wasn't like an empty place, how they say of Israel. It was teeming with people, many First Nations' peoples. People need to honor that, and if this day raises consciousness that there really is a history to be remembered, that's good. Even white (non-indigenous) scholars are bringing out that history so that people can be aware of it. You know, we're so bombarded with history [of all kinds] that we're bored of everything. People might start to pay attention to indigenous history, even if they only do it one day a year at the beginning.
How can we in the United States and here specifically at UCLA improve upon how we treat and represent Indigenous People?
One of the things that never occurred to me, I didn't come here [get into UCLA] as a student who had any privileges for being Native American because the Tongva of this land -- not really the "Tongva," sometimes we call ourselves the Kizh or get called Gabrielenos -- are not a federally recognized tribe. No federal recognition and there's no roster. Therefore, you didn't get credit for being this kind of Native American. The Native Americans from here, from Los Angeles, just to survive had to head south. And when they came back, they had suddenly been "brown-washed."

"Oh, you're Latino." And so it just all gets blended in, and all the Latinos (Europeanized Natives) get blended in, and it's all cool. And it wasn't that way. What about our Native American-ness? Did that become invisible by learning Spanish, by having our native languages forcibly taken from us? This was Mexico, Los Angeles, where Nahuatl and the Uto-Aztecan family of languages were spoken. We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us.

So if UCLA builds this department -- it's a very small department -- and actually attracts scholars, that's great. It's shocking to me that Cal State Long Beach or Cal State Northridge would have bigger departments or more significant programs. UCLA -- this is the second greatest public school in the world, behind Berkeley after all -- could spearhead the movement. There has to be an academic sort of spearheading because society will do one thing, but what happens in academia, I think as long as a school lasts, there will be an awakening of consciousness.

Maybe nobody on campus will pay attention. As students, right, we're all just walking around? But that people will read about this Indigenous People's Day, know about this day, every year they'll say, "Wow, it started at UCLA. That's where the first celebration was!"

This isn't a national holiday. All the other cities and states are still celebrating Columbus Day, right? There was one smaller city -- Berkeley -- that started Indigenous Peoples' Day. I mean, it's a growing movement now. Long Beach just voted in favor of it. But we need to elevate consciousness a lot more than that.
So this was the first celebration at UCLA?

Yes. I think the vote happened about two months ago. Then when they said we were going to have the first celebration here at UCLA, I thought there were going to be hundreds of [small celebrations around LA] and that this was just the one I got invited to. But this event is the first one, the big launch. All of the significant people who made it happen -- Mitch O'Farrell, Chrissie Castro, and others -- were here. I thought, "Wow, I didn't know they were all coming to this event!"
There's GabrielenoIndians.org, and they're a tribe of 200 who claim to be related to Toypurina, a person that everybody should know. She was a Kizh/Tongva medicine woman in the San Gabriel Mission who fought like Joan of Arc but against the Spaniards, or tried to. The rebels she led didn't succeed, but they were trying to throw them off the land.

They [the tribe members who run that website] feel that they're directly connected to Toypurina by blood. And so all the little Tongva groups -- we're the Gabbies from Pasadena, the Kizh Collective School in Hahamongna, that's my group -- are not together. Everybody has their own affiliations.

Book (gabrielenoindians.org)
Everybody has out-married and become involved in other holidays and things, so there's no general consensus. And I know so many people who have no indigenous background who are into the indigenous spirit. It runs all through this land. It doesn't matter where you're from. It's not just pretend Brady Bunch-style "put on a thing," like a headdress. It's like, get in touch with the Native American spirit and struggle to bring it back. It can't remain hidden.

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