by Alex Zakuta, News Reporter
photo by Alex Zakuta
On Oct. 10, hundreds of residents spent their day off at Albemarle Field, immersed in Indigenous art, music and food. What once was a celebration of Christopher Columbus has in Newton become a celebration of the history and contributions of the vibrant Native American community living in Massachusetts.
The Newton City Council voted in November 2020 to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. Following this decision, the Newton Indigenous Peoples Day Committee made up of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous volunteers formed and has since hosted two annual celebrations to honor the holiday.
Chali’Naru Dones, Newton resident and member of the Taino tribe, co-founded the events. She said that the primary purpose of the festivity is to recognize and acknowledge the presence of Native people.
“Our ceremonial celebration is to honor all Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island [North America] and also mourn the Indigenous peoples that were once on these lands,” she said. “We want to deter people from the false narratives that Indigenous peoples no longer exist. We are still here. That is huge in our community.”
Fundraising and Event Coordinator Robert Quesada attended the event with his family and participated in the tribal dance. He said that although the celebration takes place in Newton, he wants to honor Indigenous people of all descents.
“Our main mission and goal is to simply highlight and uplift the voices of the Indigenous community not only in this region here, but across Turtle Island as well,” he said. “Everyone has a chance to draw from the connections that Indigenous people are preserving in our world,” he said.
Educator Claudia Fox Tree participated in the Indigenous Peoples Day event as a speaker and a vendor. She said that celebrating the holiday highlights previously unrecognized influences of Native Americans on the community.
“The impact is making visible what has been invisible, which is that Indigenous people have made many contributions to the modern world,” she said. “Given that we live on Indigenous land, the impact is acknowledging and understanding that there was a history and a culture here that we have all benefited from.”
It is especially crucial that youth are involved, Quesada said.
“When the world passes into our youth’s hands, they can make decisions on honoring and respecting and keeping these traditions alive,” he said.
South history teacher Katherine Wildman Zinger said that Indigenous representation in history is important to teach and honor.
“It’s important to complicate our narratives in order to get at many perspectives in history,” she said.
Fox Tree said that educators who include Indigenous Peoples Day in their curriculum are taking a step in the right direction.
“Every single event that happened in what we call U.S. history has a Native American Indigenous perspective, and therefore anything that we teach about what happened on this continent or this country needs to have the Indigenous perspective because it’s the people who are here,” she said.
South sophomore Chloe Hu said that our studies should focus on the people who were hurt rather than those who caused suffering.
“For too long, history has been focused on the colonizer side and less on the people who are actually displaced and face actual hardships,” she said.
This starts with learning the land we all live on, Quesada said.
“Every kid needs to know the name of the native tribe that lived there before their town was there,” he said. “They should know the language and they should know a little bit about the people and respecting the land that native people have taken care of for so long.”
In addition to educating those in Newton about Indigenous Peoples Day, Quesada said that the holiday should be recognized on a broader scale.
“There should be not just federal recognition, but I believe that there should be more federal resources made for communities who are trying to highlight and preserve the Indigenous cultures of their community,” he said.
Quesada said that ultimately, re-educating the public about what truly happened when Columbus arrived is at the center of recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day.
“Celebrating Indigenous people helps to un-marginalize these communities that have been affected by 500 years of oppression, genocide and other facets of colonization,” he said. “I hope that folks learn and ask questions about the things that they had learned when they grew up when it comes to the context of believing the false stories of Columbus and his voyages.”