Community members gathered on the Academic Quad on Monday evening to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day for the first time at Tufts.
The celebration included indigenous food and musical performances from different indigenous groups native to both the New England region and Latin America, as well as tables supporting the campaign to have the City of Boston recognize Indigenous People’s Day and opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate LGBT Community Representative Parker Breza and TCU Senate Diversity and Community Affairs Officer Benya Kraus organized the event with the help of academic departments and Visiting Assistant Professor of Native American Studies Matt Hooley.
“We wanted to bring a bunch of different indigenous groups to campus, to be visible, to remind people that indigenous people are still around, the culture’s still thriving, that we are on indigenous land and to just culminate the process,” Breza, a sophomore, said.
A major challenge in organizing the event was fundraising, Breza said. He and Kraus, a junior, received sponsorship for this event from the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, Office of the President, Office of Student Affairs, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Latino Center, International Relations program, Peace and Justice Studies program, Department of Political Science and Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism and Diaspora (RCD).
Breza said that he became involved in organizing the celebration because of his participation in the campaign to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day on the Arts, Sciences and Engineering academic calendar in February. He is also involved in the Indigenous People’s Day Boston movement, which the TCU Senate supported in the form of a resolution in its Oct. 2 meeting.
“Coming to Tufts, and seeing that we celebrate someone who was responsible for the largest genocide ever, and that’s normal was pretty upsetting to me for a lot of different reasons and it just seemed like an important thing,” Breza said.
Breza said he hoped Tufts will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day every year with a large celebration like the one held this year.
“I’m looking forward to … just seeing everyone celebrate indigenous culture and reminding ourselves about this land we’re on, and taking responsibility, and then also being able to celebrate and be in community with each other,” he said.
Breza and Kraus kicked off the event with opening remarks before giving the stage to Native American dance group La Piñata dance troupe, a program of the Boston-based La Piñata Latin American Cultural Family Network. La Piñata, which is comprised of native peoples, performed dances to represent earth, wind, water and fire. During the fire dance, several members of La Piñata made their way through the audience, carrying small bowls of fire and performed a ritual in which they circled audience members to clean their energy.
“We thank Tufts University for being one of the few universities to change the name to the correct name — Indigenous People’s Day,” a member of La Piñata said. “Because we cannot celebrate a genocide.”
Afterwards, Mahtowin Munro, a member of United American Indians of New England who organized the Indigenous People’s Day Cambridge movement, discussed Indigenous People’s Day Boston in addition to efforts to stop DAPL.
“It does damage not only to our native children but also to our non-native children, to have them believe that this was empty land discovered by someone,” Munro said.
Kraus thanked the TCU Senate, faculty members and University President Anthony Monaco for helping make this celebration possible, before Breza introduced Chef Sherry Pocknett, who runs the restaurant at the Pequot Museum, to discuss the food at the celebration.
The night concluded with a performance from the Nettukkusqk Singers: Deborah Spears Moorehead, Jasmine Moorehead, Jackie Moorehead and Pam Ellis. In the Natick dialect of Algonquin, “Nettukkusqk” means “my sister.” They sang multiple songs, including their anthem, and also led the audience in a western round dance.
“Stand up, stand up, stand up, stand up, stand up and listen to our song, for we are Nettukkusqk, native and strong,” they sang.
The Nettukkusqk Singers then took a group photo with audience members against DAPL, saying “Water is life.” Breza thanked everyone for coming before the event concluded.