|Maya from Guatemala and Belize, along with visitors|
from around the world, celebrate Indigenous Peoples
Day in 2009 at the ancient Maya site of Tikal.
Photo for Recycled Minds by doug reeser.
October 10th is celebrated as a national holiday by many in the U.S., and Columbus Day celebrations in cities like New York, Denver and San Francisco continue to include parades. These events have become increasingly problematic to many people around the world, especially since 1992 (the 500 year anniversary of the "discovery" of the Americas). Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and elsewhere have begun to speak up and reclaim the day as Indigenous Peoples Day.
As a regular reader of the website, Indigenous People's Issues and Resources, I caught the release of their statement on October 10th explaining why they advocate for Indigenous People's Day:
An estimated 100 million indigenous peoples were eradicated during the process of Europe's colonization of the western hemisphere. Christopher Columbus did not "discover" America, yet the continued recognition of his landing highlights the ongoing struggle of indigenous peoples against this colonial atrocity. Today, please remember to correctly inform people that this is Indigenous Peoples Day - not Columbus Day.
The move to honor indigenous peoples at this time of year has also caught on at some of the Occupy Wall Street protests around the U.S.. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! caught up with indigenous activist, Roberto Múcaro Borrero, at the protests in Liberty Square in New York City. Goodman asked Múcaro, a a representative of the United Confederation of Taino People, why he and other indigenous people were at the protests on Columbus day. He replied:
Well, for us, it’s actually Indigenous Peoples Day. And for the Taíno people, who were the first indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere to be contacted by Columbus, to be impacted by the colonial machine that took—that was set in motion after that initial contact, we’re here to say that Columbus is not a day. We’re here to join with other people’s voices in saying there needs to be an end to the cycle of colonialism and greed. So I’m happy to be here with everybody.
I had the fortunate opportunity to experience an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration with at least a few hundred Maya people from Guatemala and Belize in 2009 (check out my short video of the event here). The celebration started in a small town in Guatemala, where hundreds of people gathered at a rural Maya school to begin preparation ceremonies and rituals. From about 4:00 in the afternoon through about 3:00 in the morning, marimba music echoed through the hall, as people danced, listened to speeches, and took part in healing rituals by traditional Maya healers.
At 3am, the people started loading onto old school buses and began the trek to the ancient Maya site of Tikal. There we were joined by hundreds more from Maya villages throughout Guatemala. There were more speeches, and proclamations, and many denounced colonialism, capitalism, and the continued repression and marginalization of indigenous people. They called on their brothers and sisters to the north to join in the struggle. Finally, the people marched in a procession to the main square at Tikal, where about a dozen traditional healers held ceremony around the ancient fire pit at the center of the square and at the base of the pyramids. With a huge fire raging, healings of many types were offered to Maya and visitors throughout the day.
As a supporter of indigenous peoples and traditions, I have been advocating for their rights for many years. The experience two years ago at Tikal cemented within me the importance of maintaining and celebrating all that indigenous and traditional cultures have to offer the world. I have friends at this event at Tikal right now, and while not there in person, I am there in spirit, and I offer my support to such a meaningful cause. It is especially gratifying to witness many brothers and sisters in the north joining the struggle against the continued colonialism of our day. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!