LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The first official Indigenous Peoples Day was celebrated in Los Angeles on Monday, Oct. 7, with a daylong lineup of activities and events in the Civic Center, including a grand finale concert featuring the Black Eyed Peas and Native musicians including the rock band, Redbone.
The holiday was recognized for the first time in Los Angeles following the City Council’s vote last year to cancel Columbus Day, siding with critics who said the explorer's connection to brutality and slavery makes him unworthy of celebration. The vote was not unanimous or without controversy.
In making the move, the council rejected pleas from leaders of the Italian-American community, who argued the holiday was more to them than just a celebration of Columbus. They also said it is a day of Italian pride and a recognition of their heritage.
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation who led the effort to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles, said he believed the historical record on Columbus was plain for everyone to see.
On Monday, O’Farrell told reporters at City Hall, “What is lovely about today is that the historical record is available to anyone who wants to see it. And it’s time to no longer deny our past but reclaim our history because it’s all there for anyone who wants to see it.”
A statue of Christopher Columbus in Grand Park, where many of the festivities were taking place, was covered with a black box.
O’Farrell said it is likely the statue will remain off view until it is removed and replaced with a statue of a Native American Tongva healer. Grand Park is managed by the county, and O’Farrell said he is working with Supervisor Hilda Solis to make the change happen.
“[The statue] lives inside of a box, and will likely never see the light of day. He is being de-accessed,” O’Farrell said.
O’Farrell added, “I gather that we are playing a role in advancing the conversation, catapulting it forward, and laying bare the absurdity of celebrating Columbus Day anywhere. And I think if we can do it here in Los Angeles, then we can do it anywhere, and that is happening.”
The inaugural holiday was marked with several events, including a sunrise ceremony, 5K run, parade of nations, Native American powwow, panel sessions, a fashion show and live music.
The Black Eyed Peas, consisting of rappers will.i.am, apl.de.ap and Taboo, joined the Native American rock group Redbone as the headlining acts of the concert on the steps of City Hall facing Grand Park.
“As an Angeleno myself, and as an urban native, being of First Nation’s descent, being also born in East Los Angeles, it’s beautiful because it's an uprise for people to understand the importance of being proud of our indigenous roots,” Taboo, who is of Shoshone tribe heritage, told City News Service.
“Mitch O’Farrell has been an integral part to the fight that we’ve all been fighting, whether on Standing Rock or Alcatraz, fighting for indigenous people and equal rights.”
will.i.am told CNS he grew up being taught to celebrate Columbus Day but that he doesn’t understand now what there is to celebrate.
“Out of conditioning and sheer ignorance we have celebrated something that was horrific to a people, so now that I’m conscious, aware and woke, I want to do all I can to honor and respect the original people of this land,” he said.
Shannon Rivers, a Native American activist who is also a leader of the movement pushing the city to divest its money from Wells Fargo due to its support of the Dakota Access pipeline, told CNS that he hoped the focus on indigenous people would not end after the celebration is over.
“You can have a day, there are all these days that we celebrate in this country,” Rivers said. “But the work for indigenous peoples is critical, not just because of this day but it’s what we’re going to present later down to schools and to universities and to communities to recognize that indigenous peoples are the first inhabitants, and they are the landowners of this territory; they did not go anywhere.
“Unfortunately for many of us, genocide took place and a lot of people were killed. But for us, it’s about recognizing that not only do we need a day, but hopefully we have a day politically and our economic status becomes a little better and we start lifting people out of poverty. The National Christopher Columbus Association called for the city to keep Columbus Day before the council voted to cancel it, insisting the explorer was not responsible for the genocide committed by the Europeans who followed him.
“It is a huge error to blame Christopher Columbus, the man, for (genocide) at all,” Patrick Korten, a board member of the National Christopher Columbus Association, told CNS in 2017 as the City Council was debating the issue.
“He bore no responsibility for it and as a matter of fact, if you do the slightest little bit of history on the man and read his diaries, and what was said about him following the years of the discovery, it is clear that Columbus personally had great affection for the indigenous people he encountered and went out of his way to order his men not to abuse them in any fashion.”
On Monday, President Trump also continued to commemorate the explorer.
In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Columbus Day state holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, but Los Angeles had continued to observe the holiday as one of 12 paid days off for city workers.
O’Farrell said the total cost of the holiday celebration for the city is being assessed because some private organizations have partnered with the city for the event and fundraising was still happening.
When it approved the holiday in 2017, Los Angeles joined other cities including Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, along with five states, in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.