May 26 Cambridge MA City Council Committees meeting
The idea of Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October is not a new one. It was first proposed back in the 1970s. Around the time of the Columbus Quincentennial in 1992, some of us then living in Cambridge approached members of this City Council and were told that it was premature or not feasible. That was 24 years ago. So really, we have been waiting a long time to be able to speak tonight.
I work on this because I cannot bear to see yet another generation of our children have to endure the celebration of our genocide, and I am sure many others feel the same. As Native people, whether we are parents or not, we are all carefully taught that we must consider the impact of everything we do on this generation and the next, to the 7th generation. We know racist sports team names and mascots cause harm to our children – this has been documented by psychologists. Mascots mock us, dismiss our survival, our reality, our ongoing existence in the US narrative. In fact, Cambridge got rid of its high school sports team logo decades ago because it recognized that this was wrong.
So I ask you, what kind of harm do you suppose it causes to celebrate our genocide and to make our existence invisible?
We do everything possible to preserve or reclaim our languages, to convey our cultures to our children, to make them feel strong and proud and resilient. How do you think we explain to our kids that our Indigenous lives are so unimportant that the entire country gets a day off from work in honor of Christopher Columbus? It is a terrible things to have to sit there and explain to our children why the city, state and country do not care enough about us to stop celebrating someone whom we all know to be a monster.
You can tell a lot about a country by the way the children are treated. Indigenous children in the US have high rates of poverty, have the highest rates of suicide. So, I will tell you that nationally, about half of our youth do not graduate from high school. We have low rates of young people going to college, although we are all working hard to change that.
It is estimated that from 1960 through the 1980s, as many as 25-50% of Native American women were sterilized without informed consent. This happened in Canada and Peru, other countries too. A huge swath of future generations of our people was never born as a result of anti-Native public policies.
A report found Native children are three times more likely to be held in juvenile detention and two times more likely to be transferred to adult prison than whites. Seventy percent of the juvenile population committed to the Bureau of Prisons are Native. In the past, our children were stolen from us and put into government and church sponsored boarding schools. Nowadays, thousands of our children are taken from their homes and placed in foster care.
The US has such a high overall living standard, yet at least 13% of Native families in this country do not have tap water or a toilet, and many more do not have safe drinking water. Navajo babies in some parts of their reservation are born with uranium in their tiny bodies because the water is so contaminated due to generations of outside mining companies exploiting the natural resources there.
We are simply asking that Indigenous people be centered, for this ONE day.
Indigenous Peoples Day adds to the city in every possible way. It is also an opportunity for others to better appreciate how we can all become allies in breaking down the remaining cultural and institutional barriers of discrimination. Many institutions here talk about diversity and the great mosaic, yet we are somehow usually not even mentioned or acknowledged.
We need to unlink the second Monday in October completely from any so-called “discoveries” of lands that were already inhabited and make the focus be on Indigenous Peoples, our history and cultures.
We seek to spark conversations citywide about Indigenous peoples, and increase consciousness that everyone is on Indigenous land.
What we are doing is part of a wave happening in cities and towns everywhere. When I speak with people in places that now honor Indigenous Peoples Day, they speak directly to many of the points raised here tonight. There is still much work to be done, but non-Native people are becoming increasingly aware of us and the need to stop dehumanizing us.
We seek recognition of Indigenous People on the second Monday in October, a day that is meaningful because of the long-term damage and offense we have experienced as a result of the Columbus Day holiday. It changes the conversation from Columbus to Indigenous history and our continuing survival and presence on our lands.
This country, this city has been celebrating a butcher at our expense for far too long. It is time for a change. We are asking every member of the City Council to support this resolution. As was the case with other civil and human rights matters such as bringing down the confederate flag and instituting LGBTQT marriage equality, not everybody will understand the need for this despite all our educational efforts. But we are counting on you to listen and understand and do the right thing.