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Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration 2021 on Lenapehoking Land, AKA Randalls Island in NYC

By Jessica Dropkin

“Indigenous Peoples Day is for us. It’s a day for Indigenous people to say, ‘Hey, we’re still here.’”

- Cliff Matias, Cultural Director for the Red Hawk Native American Arts Council

Round Dance

This past October 10th to 11th, 2021 there was a beautiful celebration, which is otherwise known as a Powwow, held on Lenapehoking land, AKA Randall’s Island. This event was intertribal and organized by the Redhawk Native American Arts Council and Lenape Nation along with many other entities that helped make this event possible.

The Redhawk Native American Arts Council (TRNAAC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and maintained by Native American artists and educators serving the tri-state area. TRNAAC is dedicated to educating the general public about Native American heritage through song, dance, theater, works of art and other cultural forms of expression. They represent artists from North, South, Central American, Caribbean and Polynesian Indigenous cultures. TRNAAC produces four of the largest Native American heritage celebrations in the Northeast. The arts council also hosts festivals, workshops, theater presentations and educational programs, addressing stereotypes and fostering an awareness of Native cultures from a historical standpoint, with a focus on contemporary cultural practices. TRNAAC performing artists have been educating students, delighting international audiences, and assisting corporations with their diversity awareness. Their performers have created programs that educate their audiences about Native American history while placing emphasis on their respective cultural practices today. The Redhawk dancers create educational programs for school groups from pre-kindergarten through university level, as well as various libraries across the tri-state area. Redhawk also hosts keynote speakers and produces fun, exciting diversity awareness programs for corporations and government agencies.

Intertribal Dancers

What was called Columbus Day in previous years is now officially recognized nationally and locally as Indigenous Peoples Day, a day of honoring and recognizing all Indigenous cultures as well as their histories. Columbus Day is a holiday celebrated by Italian citizens honoring Christopher Columbus. For many years Americans were systemically forced into celebrating or honoring this day due to our whitewashing of our colonial history. Our US education system and curriculum taught us that Columbus discovered America but this information is now proven incorrect. No one discovered America because there were already Indigenous people living on and caring for these lands. Anyone who sailed from another region to America around the time Columbus was alive was either a settler, a colonizer or both. Christopher Columbus was a mere visitor to an area he had never been before which was already owned and cared for by Indigenous people. He liked what he saw and decided to take it over with other Europeans via colonization and cultural genocide. Without highlighting the atrocities as well as the low morals that Columbus exhibited, I think it’s safe to say that this man from history is not one to be celebrated, especially if you are working towards decolonization and the truth about the United States and Indigenous peoples' histories.

Lenapehoking Land Plaque at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lenapehoking is the name for Lenape (meaning The People) land which spans across Western Connecticut to Eastern Pennsylvania, the Hudson Valley to Delaware, with Manhattan at its center. Centuries of colonialism perpetuated genocide, systemic oppression, and forced displacement by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which forced over 60,000 members of self governing Indigenous tribes and nations to migrate, thousands who died during the Trail of Tears. Today the Lenape Diaspora is dispersed throughout the U.S. and Canada. There are many areas in NYC itself that originally held names in the Lenape language. Manahata, the original name of Manhattan, means “island of many hills. All states and cities in the US, AKA Turtle Island, had names of Indigenous origins before they were colonized and settled by Europeans.

Unkechaug Nation's Flag during the Intertribal Flag Ceremony

There were a variety of tribal nations and organizations that sponsored today’s event besides Lenape Nation such as Shinnecock Nation, Unkechaug Nation, Schaghticoke Nation, Na Oiwi NYC, United Confederation of Taino People, Fundacion Semilla, Warunkwa, Redrum MC, Redspirit RC. Lakota Peoples Law Project, Indigenous Peoples Movement, Urban Indigenous Collective, Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective, Indigenous Women Hike and more, which can be found on the IPD NYC website.

Indigenous Peoples Day NYC 2021 Photographer: Jessica Dropkin

There were many dances, performances, ceremonies and speakers at IPD NYC 2021. One dance performed was the Jingle Dress “Red Dress” Special which shared the medicine of the dance in honor of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIWG2S) movement for all those who passed, their families standing on the frontlines and the protection of our planet. Other dances performed were traditional Smoke, Eastern War, and Eastern Blanket Special Dances. There were honorings for boys with braids and for the residential school survivors and children. Te Ao Mana performed a dance and Kalpulli Xochiquetzal showcased the Danzantes Mexicas traditional dances. The Young Blood Singers performed and were the drummers for most of the dances and ceremonies. There were hip hop artists that also performed in the evening such as Immortal Technique - Peruvian/American, J25 - Chickasaw Nation, Michelle Thomas - NAMA Navajo winning recording artist and Terrance Jade - Oglala Lakota from Wounded Knee.

Chenae Bullock from Shinnecock/Montauk Nation

Ginew Benton from Ojibwe Nation and Chenae Bullock from Shinnecock/Montauk Nation were only a couple of amazing speakers at this event along with Jolie Varela, founder of Indigenous Women Hike - Tule River Yokuts/Nuumu, Kansas Middletent - Lakota - Lower Brule Lakota Tribe, Erik Andrade - Cabo Verde - National Award Winning Poet/Activist, Sutton King - Menominee/Oneida - Afro-Indigenous Public Health Leader and more. All speakers spoke of their culture and dedication to the land they inherited. They led speeches on societal, cultural and environmental issues and shared stories of their families.

Cliff Matias, founder of Redhawk Native American Arts Council, stood with his family and held an honoring ceremony during the day of the October 10th event for their uncle who passed from COVID-19 this year and it was a nearly indescribable, collectively spiritual moment. Most of the first day of the event experienced rain and chilly weather, however, during the honoring of their family member and speaking of his warm energy he had when walking into any room, the sky opened up with the sun to warm everyone.

Indigenous Peoples Day NYC 2021 Photographer: Jessica Dropkin

There were also a handful of Indigenous vendors there that were showcasing their handmade crafts such as Rudy Lazarro and Kelly Indian Jewelry. There were vendors selling many cultural things such as fry bread, beadworked items to handmade clothing and hand carved instruments.

Redrum MC

When purchasing Indigenous art always make sure you are directly supporting a person who is of that culture and not someone who isn’t Native and is profiting off of their culture. Always appreciate cultures instead of appropriating them.

Indigenous Peoples Day NYC 2021 Photographer: Jessica Dropkin

Indigenous Peoples Day is a day that I’m proud and happy to be able to participate in and continue to celebrate, and honor, every year. This day being finally officially recognized domestically and internationally will be beneficial to tribes and nations especially in reclaiming their ancestry, culture, history and identity.

Full Gallery of Photos from Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration, October 10 - 11th, NYC in 2021

Photographer: Jessica Dropkin


Indigenous Peoples Day NYC

Redhawk Native American Arts Council

The Lenape Center

This is Lenapehoking


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