A Look Into Indigenous Peoples’ Day in NYC

Photographs by Cinthya Santos Briones, Words by Rondel Holder

Indigenous Peoples’ Day commemorates the history, culture and contributions of Native Americans across the US. Falling on the second Monday in October—in an intentional effort to rename or replace the same day’s Columbus Day—it was first established as a holiday by South Dakota in 1990. Many cities and states have since followed suit, and in 2021, President Joe Biden officially proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day a federal holiday.

(From left) Desy "Blackbird" Rios, Cherokee/Lakota; Katy Isennock, Rosebud Sioux

Observances intimate and grand happen across the US, including educational presentations, panel discussions and festivals. In New York City, the largest such celebration is Indigenous Peoples’ Day NYC, 24 hours of performances and traditional ceremonies on Randall’s Island. Indigenous people from tribes and nations all over the country come to NYC (or Lenapehoking, as the Lenape land that extended along the Eastern seaboard is known) for this overnight celebration of culture.

See below for photos from this year’s celebration and accounts from a few participants who shared their stories.

Patricia “Chali’naru” Dones

Patricia “Chali’naru” Dones, Boston, Massachusetts

Tribal Name: Chali’naru, meaning “a woman who brings joy”
Tribe and Nation: Boriken Taino, Iukaieke Guainia from Puerto Rico

What makes you most proud to be an Indigenous person?
Patricia “Chali’naru” Dones: Throughout all the misconceptions, lies, myth and false narratives, we are still here thriving as a people. We Indigenous peoples are the voices of our ancestors. We continue to bring honor to them by speaking truths, reeducating and bringing awareness to those that still don’t understand the struggles we face every day brought by colonization.

What do you wish people knew about Indigenous people living in America today?
PD: We are one nation connected to our ancestors and Mother Earth, continuously fighting for our sovereignty.

How would you describe the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on Randall’s Island?
PD: New York City’s gathering of nations. A ceremonial celebration honoring our ancestors through prayer, dance and unity. As a Boriken Taino woman and a liaison to the United Confederation of Taino People, I feel it’s my duty to represent my Taino culture with dignity and respect.

Is there an Indigenous community where you currently live?
PD: Yes, and with that I want to acknowledge that I too am a guest on the unceded lands of the Ponkapoag, Aquinnah Wampanoag, Mashpee Wampanoag and Nipmuc [tribes that lived in Eastern Massachusetts].

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What's your connection to NYC?
PD: Our ceremonies and gatherings [take place here, and] my tribal chief, Kasike Mukaro, and a large part of our tribal community reside in New York. NYC is a home away from home.

Junio Leamsi Alvarado

Junio Leamsi Alvarado, Manhattan, New York City

Tribal Name: “They call me Taonize”
Tribe and Nation: Boriken Taino from Puerto Rico

What makes you most proud to be an Indigenous person?
Junio Leamsi Alvarado: The customer trading and history fascinate me. The culture, regalia and foods are quite interesting.

How would you describe the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on Randall’s Island?
JLA: We met different people from many walks of life. The correct history has to be continued to be told straight. Our younger generation is starting to understand the facts of what really happened to our ancestors.

What’s your connection to NYC?
JLA: I was born and raised in NYC. However, I love my roots. I belong to the Taino tribe—both my parents are from Puerto Rico and relocated to the United States in the late 1930s. They brought their traditional customs with them, and my mother brought her traditional beliefs of the three kings, los Reyes Magos. These festivities start from late November [and go] through the middle of January. This is my 53rd year educating and celebrating the traditional history along with marching in the [Three Kings’ Day] parade with El Museo del Barrio on January 6.

(From left) Mariette Strauss; Michael RedHawk Bliss and Junise Golden Feather Bliss, Seaconke Wampanoag

Angeles O.R.

Edwardo Bravo

Edwardo “Chakpaakat Báalam” Bravo, The Bronx, New York

Tribal Name: Chakpaakat Báalam translates to “a man with strong eyes” and “jaguar,” respectively
Tribe: Descendant of the Maya from Guatemala

What makes you most proud to be an Indigenous person?
Edwardo “Chakpaakat Báalam” Bravo:
Navigating society as a racialized Indigenous person who has reclaimed my native identity, spirituality and culture from Spanish, Mexican and US colonialism has been a journey. Despite my diaspora blues (too foreign for here, too foreign for home, never enough for either), I am proud to stand 10 toes down in my indignity against settler Europeanization, with brown skin, long hair and the face of my ancestors.

What do you wish people knew about Indigenous people living in America today?
EB:
First, I wish they knew that “America” is not the United States. America is all of Turtle Island: North, Central and South. I would also ask US-ians to reflect on the delusion that Indigenous people are extinct; we are here and have always been. Despite the many hardships we endure in our communities, we are a vibrant tapestry of hope and healing.

How would you describe the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on Randall’s Island?
EB:
There are no words to describe IPD in the English language. On the surface, it is a gathering of Indigenous peoples from all over the world singing, dancing and connecting. On a deeper level, it is a frequency that is transmuted from the land through our vessels and into our spirits. I attend to help my inner child heal, to honor the legacy my elders and my peers lay, so that my future generations are a little more free to just be.

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What connection do you have to NYC? What do you love most about it?
EB:
I was born in Lenape territory, colonial name: Queens. What I love most about Lenape territory is its spirit of resilience. This territory isn’t a city; it’s a machine. Everyday hundreds of people move in and hundreds of people are spit out. For those who have the warrior spirit to fight for their dreams and goals, this territory creates titans.

(From left) Johman K. Taylor, Ponca/Southern Ute tribes; Cody Coe

Cinthya Sanos Briones is a photographer, artist and educator who grew up in central Mexico and lives in New York City.

November is Native American Heritage Month. Here are some participatory eventsto celebrate the occasion; check too on events and exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian.


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