Monday, Oct. 13 was an historic day for Native Americans locally and across the country when Mayor Ed Murray signed a resolution that honors indigenous peoples by declaring the second Monday in October “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in Seattle.
Before a standing room-only crowd gathered in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle City Hall that day – the last Columbus Day ever for Seattle – a festive atmosphere prevailed as the mayor signed the resolution and handed out the pens he used to sign with. During the signing ceremony, tribal leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with city officials, lots of children and members of many tribes to witness the momentous occasion amid Indian drumming and singing that rang throughout city hall that day.
“This is an incredibly exciting moment…and I am so glad so many people have come here today,” Murray told the crowd. “I hope today is not simply a day of recognition but also a moment of healing.” The mayor continued, “Recognizing today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity to educate our youth and our broader community about the positive and enduring contributions of indigenous people as well as the ongoing challenges faced by Native Americans. This is also an opportunity for others to better appreciate how we can become allies in breaking down the remaining cultural and institutional barriers of discrimination. …Today’s commemoration is intended to spark a productive conversation about the contributions of indigenous peoples, and, most importantly, their continued involvement in the cultural fabric of our community and the entire country.”
In a news release issued by the City of Seattle, Puyallup Tribal Council Member David Bean is quoted as saying, “By passing this resolution, the city has demonstrated to the original inhabitants of this territory that the city values their history, culture and welfare, as well as their contributions to the local economy as attorneys, fishermen, doctors, construction workers and entrepreneurs.”
Mayor Murray commended two Seattle City Council Members for being instrumental in getting the resolution before the council, which passed it unanimously – Bruce Harrell and Kshama Sawant. “I believe that what makes Seattle so special, so unique, is that we are bold enough to admit the shortcomings of our history in order to achieve the realization of our dreams,” Bruce Harrell said. “This has been an educational opportunity for our city and across the country. I believe that in honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we are honoring the best in ourselves. We are being open-minded, we are listening to each other and we are celebrating the triumphs and values of every oppressed group. We are celebrating that human spirit that says, ‘We matter and we shall be treated fairly.’”
In addition to establishing Indigenous People’s Day, a section of the resolution called on Seattle Public Schools (SPS) to adopt “the teaching of the history, culture and government of the indigenous peoples of our state” and the Seattle School Board responded by voting to approve observing Indigenous People’s Day and teaching more Native history.
At the signing ceremony, the mayor also announced that Chairman Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe has been appointed to serve on the Central Waterfront Steering Committee.
“We welcome Chairman Forsman to that committee and look forward to our continuing work with tribal peoples on the historic waterfront,” said Murray.
The committee and waterfront design teams will work extensively with tribes to help ensure that the tribal roots of the place and the continued tribal presence in the area are reflected in the design of the new waterfront, Murray said. Murray also announced a new public art project on the waterfront that will recognize and reflect the Coast Salish tribes’ historic connection to the region.
In addition, Murray announced the appointment of Claudia Kauffman, former state senator and current intergovernmental liaison for the Muckleshoot Tribe, to serve as board chair of the Seattle Indian Services Commission.
“Claudia will help revitalize and rebuild the Seattle Indian Services Commission to ensure that our urban Indian residents are well served and represented,” said Murray.
Finishing his remarks, Murray said the day reflects the words of poet Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but if faced with courage need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes on the day breaking for you.”
PARTY AT DAYBREAK
That Murray chose this particular Maya Angelou quote about “day breaking” was perfect for the occasion in that following his signing of the resolution a big celebration was held that evening at Daybreak Star Cultural Center that attracted hundreds of tribal members, their friends and family. In fact, the event organizers said many more showed up than they expected, recalling past events at Daybreak like the Fort Lawton takeover and when Bernie Whitebear passed away. The atmosphere was electric, as smiles, laughter and Native pride permeated the cultural center inside and out.
Matt Remle (Lakota), an activist, educator and writer who works for the Marysville/Tulalip school district’s Indian education program, drafted the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution. At Daybreak Star that night he told the Puyallup Tribal News, “One of the interpretations in the resolution is this right here – the unity – people all coming together. You’ve got tribal folks and tribal leaders from the different reservations and communities. In my short life I don’t remember ever seeing that much collaboration as we’ve seen with this. Daybreak Star has been here since the takeover and we haven’t seen this in a long time.”
Matt Remle commended Puyallup Tribal Council Member David bean for his “tremendous support. He came up and testified and gave great testimony and was supportive after it was passed in getting salmon donated to Daybreak Star,” Matt Remle said.
“It was a very exciting celebration – an amazing, historic day for our people,” said Millie Kennedy (Tsimshian, Raven Clan), who was on the event planning committee and an emcee that evening. “I haven’t seen so many happy faces in a long, long time. It was a very happy day for us. Our committee felt really good about it.” The committee included Millie, Matt Remle, M. Eli Ellison (Ute/Zuni/Yaqui), Cindi Beech LaMar (Choctaw) and Christopher Cullen (Diné) and United Indians of All Tribes Foundation staff Pam Nason (Colville), Thaidra Alfred (Cowichan), Berta Pierce (Gros Venture/Assiniboine) and Christopher Byrd (Nagethligai Cullen/Diné).
Millie Kennedy thanked the Puyallup Tribe for helping make the event possible. “The Puyallup Tribe was the only tribe that gave us money for this event,” she said, noting that Council Member David Bean deserves special thanks for giving powerful testimony to Seattle City Council and securing the funds donated by the Tribe. “He was very instrumental in helping us with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Millie Kennedy recalled the death of John T. Williams on the streets of Seattle in 2010, when he was shot and killed by Seattle police officer Ian Birk and how it left a sour taste in the mouth of Indian people locally and nationally. She called the city’s declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day “restorative justice of the city.
“This to me was the city doing the right thing to help our community get back to a happy community,” she said.
Starting off with a community dinner – thanks to the 400 pounds of salmon donated by the Colville, Swinomish and Lummi tribes – the evening was dedicated to reveling in the joy of the first annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day and giving honor to those who made it possible.
The evening included many honorings – of unsung heroes in the Native rights movement; a drumming and singing salute to tribal veterans, those who defended tribal people when the invading settlers arrived all the way to Native military personnel today; and an honoring of revolutionaries, Seattle city and government staff and the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
Tribal leaders were also honored. Puyallup Tribal Council Member David Bean spoke, along with past council member Nancy Shippentower-Games.
“Today is a celebration of indigenous peoples – a celebration that we’re still here, right?” David Bean said as the crowd cheered in response. He brought some of his nieces, nephews and cousins up with him to the microphone. “Twenty-two years ago when they passed this resolution in San Francisco, my mother Gloria Bean was there and she wanted to make sure that her kids, her nieces and nephews and their families would remember that day and so all of you kids here today, today is a day to remember. It is a result of a lot of people coming together and putting in a lot of effort to recognize the original inhabitants of this land and to celebrate them and to begin a healing process. So I want you all to remember this day, to tell the story to your grandchildren that you were there on that day…”
He punctuated the importance of this by turning to the children and saying to the audience, “This is the next generation of tribal leaders.”
Gesturing upward to the enlarged photos that hang on the walls of Daybreak Star, Nancy Shippentower-Games pointed out her family relatives that are in some of the photos and reminded the audience that everything Indian people have today is due to the bravery and selflessness of the ancestors and elders who weren’t afraid to go out fishing on the Puyallup River or to take part in protests at places like Fort Lawton or who stood up for tribal people at Wounded Knee.
“Without them you would have nothing…so let’s remember those ancestors. Many of them are gone and we have forgotten them. Let’s remember them. These are the people we need to know about – they’re our people.”
Looking forward, Matt Remle said work remains to be done, including efforts for additional cities and states to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day and, one day, nationally.
“One of the ideas is we get it as a federal holiday – start at the grassroots and go to the national level,” he said. “More specifically with Seattle we have to continue working with the school board and make sure they follow through on their commitment. That’s one piece. Also, Seattle City Council recognized that they haven’t had a lot of voice from the Native community and that kind of opened their eyes that they need to bring in that tribal voice to the city so maybe we’ll see more on that relationship as well.”
(This article was originally published in the Oct. 24, 2014 edition of the Puyallup Tribal News.)