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Mills celebrates Indigenous People’s Day

This year at Mills College, Columbus Day, Oct. 9, was celebrated as Indigenous People’s Day.

“Historically when we look at the colonization of new worlds, the indigenous people were displaced or killed,” Dean of Student Life Joanna Iwata said. “There’s another side that we never hear that much about.”

A crowd of around 50, some standing, others sitting and a few taking pictures, gathered at noon on Toyon Meadow to observe and participate in the Blessing of the Land ceremony.

“The land blesses us as human beings perpetually and the blessing of the land is an acknowledgement of that original blessing,” Director of Spiritual Life Erika Macs said.

All Nations of Oakland provided native drumming and Wally Johnson played the flute.

“I heard the music, the sound pulled me here,” junior Rosanna Scimeca said.

At the end of the ceremony, Sharilane Suki introduced the circle dance, which audience members as well as those involved in the ceremony participated in.

“The way I learned it we don’t hold hands, but this is California,” Suki said.

The Native American Sisterhood Alliance held a sunrise service for its members.

“My favorite thing wasn’t something that one person said, but the unity I felt,” senior Merri Gordon said.

Last year, NASA’s first activity was Native People’s Day. Their posters were torn down and a mediation took place.

“It diminished and discounted the efforts of the student group,” Iwata said. “It was our sign that we needed to take this on as a division. The education and awareness doesn’t always have to come through the students of color, but from allies on campus.”

The division of student life plans to continue this event next year.

“We’ll continue to build on the program, each year it will have different aspects,” Iwata said. “We will expand on it outside of the observance itself, there may be different activities that we plan around it, so stay tuned.”

The division is also working with NASA to resume a pow-wow at Mills. One was hosted by the anthropology department for about 15 years until last year.

“The indigenous people in my life have taught me that there isn’t a division between what’s spiritual and what’s not,” Macs said. “You are on the land at all times, so at all times the spirit is present.”

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is an international movement that began in 1977 at the United Nations. In some communities, such as Berkeley, Indigenous People’s Day has replaced Columbus Day.

“There were many different forms of people that came before us that I think we need to recognize,” Iwata said. “The advantages we have today come from the struggles of those that came before us.”