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Indigenous Peoples Day Moves Largely Online Amid Pandemic

In 2019, Gov. Tony Evers Declared October's Second Monday To Be Indigenous Peoples Day

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Nedallas Hammill, from Phoenix, of the Navajo, Ho Chunk, Apache, Pima, Arikara and Hidats tribes, performs in the youth division at The Heard Museum’s 22nd Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

On Monday morning, members of the Oneida Nation gathered at the Norbert Hill Center for a sacred tobacco burning ceremony in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday the tribe has celebrated since 2012.

Attendance was limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the ceremony was streamed on Facebook. Celebrations have had to change this year, but groups around the state are still finding ways to honor Indigenous Peoples Day, a counter to Columbus Day.

The organization Wisconsin Native Vote began its packed schedule Monday with a performance by internationally renowned Menominee musician Wade Fernandez, which was also streamed on social media.

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For years, Fernandez said he fought to discontinue Columbus Day, which many view as a celebration of European colonialism.

When Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order in 2019 establishing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in Wisconsin, Fernandez celebrated, he said. He’d be able to sing songs of joy instead of protest.

“It feels so good to not have to do that, at least in Wisconsin right now,” he said.

Indigenous students at Lawrence University in Appleton are spread across the country as they take online classes amid the pandemic, but they also wanted to honor the holiday.

Junior Jessica Hopkins is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and president of Lawrence University Native Americans (LUNA). The group made a video for campus and community members to stream in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day. It features several LUNA members, including Hopkins, as well as Ben Grignon, an award-winning teacher of traditional Menominee arts.

The goal was to create something hopeful during this uncertain time, Hopkins said.

“Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to rally, a day to come together, a day to celebrate our resilience and continuation and it’s kind of like a promise for the future,” she said.

In honor of the holiday, LUNA is also raising awareness for Partnership With Native Americans, which provides financial assistance to tribes amid the pandemic, Hopkins said. And she noted you don’t have to be native to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Standing together on Indigenous Peoples Day is really important,” she said.

Junior Taneya Garcia, a member of the Santa Ana and Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, also appears in the video. Though Indigenous Peoples Day officially takes place in October, she hopes people will embrace the spirit of the holiday all year, she said.

“I hope that people continue to uplift and encourage Indigenous voices and let them have a space to celebrate indigeneity,” she said.

The holiday serves as a reminder that native people and cultures haven’t disappeared, she said.

“We still are very much alive. We’re thriving. We celebrate our indigeneity in so many different ways,” she said.

Garcia said it’s been inspiring to witness the resilience of the Indigenous community throughout the pandemic, including on Indigenous Peoples Day, even though it looks different this year.

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