There appears to be a movement nationwide away from acknowledging the second Monday of the month as Columbus Day, and toward recognizing the day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The social unrest and protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police most likely have contributed significantly to this movement.  

To date, at least 14 states and more than 130 local governments have chosen not to celebrate Columbus Day, named after Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, and instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. For some states, like California, a Native American Day is celebrated in September. Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued proclamations recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as has President Biden this month, but both proclamations do not carry the weight of official state and federal holidays.

Oct. 11 is still considered a federal holiday for Columbus Day, and state and federal courts, as well as most banks, will be closed. There will be no mail delivery today.

In the Golden State, the city of Berkeley is one of the birthplaces of the movement. In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the so-called “discovery” of America by Columbus in 1492, civic leaders declared Columbus Day null and void and declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day as the official city holiday taking its place. 

Let’s take a look at how Indigenous Peoples’ Day is, or is not, celebrated in north and south Orange County. 

Recognition in North O.C.

Anaheim is built on the ancestral land of the Gabrielino-Tongva people – the indigenous people of the region, according to the Anaheim Indigenous Peoples’ Day website.  

Part of the city along the Santa Ana River bed used to be home to a village called the Hotuuknga – part of the Tovaangar nation that engulfed all of present-day Anaheim before the area was colonized.

The Anaheim Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee will host the second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration in Anaheim today from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Participants during the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration in Anaheim which took place in 2020. Credit: Photo courtesy of Anaheim Indigenous Peoples' Day Committee

David Garcia, a member of the Tohono O’odham nation out in Arizona who is an advisor on the committee, said the push to get people to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day is decades old.

“The fight has gone on for more than 50 years,” he said. 

Garcia said he has worked with the city of Anaheim to do away with honoring Columbus and instead have Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“It took a lot of meetings with the Cultural and Heritage Committee and eventually, we were able to get a supporting letter from that committee and it went to the city council last year and so this will be our second anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” he said.

Just this past Friday, President Biden became one the first presidents to issue a proclamation commemorating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. ​​”For generations, federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” Biden said in his proclamation, accessible on the official whitehouse.gov website. “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 proclamation recognizes “the inherent sovereignty” of Native Americans, and “commits to honoring the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.” 

“There’s even discussions even at the Congress level, whether or not Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be a paid holiday,” Garcia said.

At 10:30 a.m. people will gather at the Native American United Methodist Church in Anaheim for a healing walk all the way to city hall where representatives from the city will be present and Indigenous people will speak. 

Mazatl Tepehyolotzin, a member of the Anaheim Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee, said the healing walk is a form of prayer and that some people will be fasting as well.

He also said members of different tribes will be present at the celebration with people coming from tribes from Arizona and Tongva people performing traditional songs and dance.

“Traditionally, what happens is there is a Native American ceremony. The local tribe in Anaheim – the Tongvas will sing and dance and then they’ll talk about the history of the Tongva,” he said.

People who attend are encouraged to dress in their traditional culture attire from wherever they’re from or regalia that represents their identity.

There will also be an ancestral run.

“We’re going to be running to the river down Lincoln Avenue. That’s where we’re going to have food,” he said. “We’re encouraging the youth and community and all kinds of people to be out there and learn.

“There’s a lot of people, it’s going to be big, it’s going to be beautiful. We’re really excited.” 

Tepehyolotzin said the spiritual healing walk is also tied to a petition to change Anaheim High School’s mascot – the Colonists. He said the mascot promotes violence and white supremacy.

“It’s for us to heal because we need to change that mascot,” he said.

South O.C. and the Mission San Juan Capistrano

For more than a decade, Native American activists and sympathizers have protested in front of the Mission San Juan Capistrano – a Spanish mission, California historic landmark, museum and gardens. Typically, protesters have gathered each year at the corner of Ortega Highway and Junípero Serra Road, carrying signs and encouraging passers by to honk their horns.

A view of the bell wall and outdoor gardens at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

It’s unclear if the protests will happen again this year. The internet and social media sites have been oddly silent on the matter. Some of the organizers’ websites, like the Mexica Movement and Colectivo Tonantzin, are no longer operational. 

But it shouldn’t be a surprise if someone shows up Monday with a sign. Father Junípero Serra, one of the founders of the mission, and his legacy have been seriously reconsidered in this post-Floyd era of racial reckoning. Some say Serra and his Spanish colleagues were responsible for Native American slavery, mistreatment, disease, even deaths. Statues of Serra have been defaced and taken down across the state over the past year and a half.

Native people who lived and worked at the mission include the Acjachemen, who are also known as the Juaneño or the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, according to the Mission SJC website.

The Mission SJC will actually be closed today. It used to be open every day, but ever since COVID-19 restrictions forced its shutdown and then led to limited hours, the mission is now closed on Mondays. 

Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, executive director of the mission, said people “have a right to protest.”

“If the feeling is that people want to protest, that’s their right,” she said. “There won’t be anybody (working) there to see it. But they have a right to do what they want to do. I don’t really have a comment. But I’m an American, and I believe in freedom of speech.” 

To honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Lawrence-Adams said, folks from the area tribal community will be ringing the bells onsite at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Native American basket weaving demonstrations will also take place there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.   

“We’re committed to education, and I think we’re doing a great job,” Lawrence-Adams said. 

Other areas of South O.C. are rather quiet about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That may be because Native Americans have all but been obliterated from many parts of South County. 

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at rchang@voiceofoc.org.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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