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Community celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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Day-long event honors Native people through music, rally, film

Over the past nearly three decades many cities and states across the nation have opted to honor the Native people of the world on the second Monday in October. In Gallup, what was once Columbus Day has for the past three years been an official celebration of indigenous people.

Gallup’s Oct. 8 Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration  featured displays and information booths, a forum and a few films at the Second Street Events Center. A demonstration and rally took place at the Gallup Cultural Center, and the day’s music was performed in honor of the world’s indigenous people — past, present and future.

Despite rain, the event drew a crowd. Several individuals held signs as passerbys drove by and honked in comradery.

Ryedale Largo, Diné/Mescalero Apache, was asked to perform his songs for the event. Originally from Churchrock, Largo is a youth solo artist who sings Round Dance and Apache songs.

“I’m here to perform and show what indigenous is really about through my songs,” he said. “To me, indigenous is showing your culture and your own way of life as an indigenous American.”

Since 1992, Mervyn Tilden, also from Churchrock, has organized the Indigenous   Peoples’ Day celebration.

Tilden said Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day of awareness. He said Americans are taught at a young age to accept the false history of Christopher Columbus, who was simply a man lost at sea.

“We are the history of the Americas, it’s time for the dominant society to recognize this holiday that we mark as the day of [them] being a part of our history,” he said. “Most importantly, it is to honor our ancestors of all the struggles they have been through, the hardships they have suffered, and the detrimental chaos in so many ways that have been taken. But it comes today to respect and honor the indigenous people everywhere in their own struggle, where ever they may be.”

Tilden said indigenous  people, who were placed on reservations by the U.S. government and military, are at the short end of the stick. He said the lands Native people were placed on were thought be the poorest, but ended up being abundant in oil, gas, coal and gold. Now, he said, the U.S. government wants the land back.

Tilden’s concerned about several issues that impact indigenous people.

“My greatest concern is that through passage of legislation, it is already happening to one tribe up north, that they are going to abrogate the treaty; they’re going to dissolve the reservation boundary lines; they’re going to strip our courts of authority that we have and take away what we call sovereignty,” he said. “They’re also going to allow multi-million[-dollar] national corporations to pillage and plunder of what is left of our lands.”

Among those who showed support for the day were employees from the Octavia Fellin Public library, and Larry Foster and his wife Mattie Y. Foster of Gallup.

The Fosters have been involved with the event for the past three years, and supported Indigenous Peoples’ Day by informing the public of issues that concern all Native Americans through hand-written signs about issues such as border-town justice, the ongoing fight with treaties and racism.

The Fosters said they hoped to draw attention and educate those who came to the rally.

“We are here to show support about all the negativity towards Native American people and the issues affecting them,” Larry Foster said. “Some are Navajo issues such as defending our treaty rights, the issue of Free Big Mountain and Standing Rock. Many of these issues are brought out on this Indigenous Day that we want the public to know about and to support these issues.”

Representing all indigenous women, Mattie Y. Foster proudly displayed her sign and spoke about the struggles, setbacks and problems facing the world’s indigenous women.

She said even today, many Native women suffer and succumb to the problems facing them. The solution, she said, is in speaking with and showing young indigenous women that they can endure and become strong.

“Lots of our Native women are missing, being used, and most are young women,” Mattie Y. Foster said. “It’s sad because most of them do have children and are left orphaned. We have to take care of each other and tell our young ladies to not be out there in this world where this is happening.”

Tobacco was lit and the crowd was blessed. Tilden thanked everyone for showing up and said it was yet another great year for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The celebration wrapped up at the Cultural Center to a melodic drum beat and voices chanting in unison.

By Dee Velasco
For the Sun