By Joel Longnecker
On October 12th, Whatcom Community college presented its 2nd annual Indigenous Peoples Day Ceremony. The event takes place as a way to acknowledge the presence of the native people in our county and across the country, as well as to educate the community about the misguided celebration of Columbus Day.
The event included a roster of singers, drummers and, speakers from Native American culture, especially our local Lummi population, and was hosted by members of the WCC Intercultural Center.
Lummi Nation Elder, Ethel Hillaire-Warbus, discussed the ways native people today are still affected by the status they are given in American society. Using a blend of personal stories of oppression and expanding on the ways natives still encounter discrimination she presents a perspective of what challenges natives still face.
“There are still people who don’t understand the phrase ‘First Contact’. This is part of history nobody teaches.” Said Ethel, who expanded with, “You don’t know how important it is, to go get an education, and bring that back to our people”
The poet and activist,
Renee Roman Nose, also spoke on native empowerment and expanded the idea with a message of why activism is vital to not just Native Americans but, also for all people. Her topics ranged from police brutality to the importance of clean water but her true focus was to bring to light the severity and frequency of sexual assault effecting native women that is relatively unspoken of.
“The first time someone tried to rape me I was in the third grade. I lived in an alcohol battleground… I don’t want any more stories like that for our daughters” Said Renee, “one out of four native women will be sexually assaulted. There is one other group that comes close with those numbers, and that is you college age women.”
Renee reaches across cultures as she asked all of the men in the crowd to stand up where they are and she shook each of their hands while asking them to honor, protect and help the women in their lives.
They events musical aspects were brought by several individuals who used different songs and methods to display the art of their ancestry. As performers John Kurtz and Rudy Vendiola took the stage to play a hand drum and sing, Kurtz spoke briefly on the meaning of how Columbus Day belittles native people.
“I could stand here all day and talk about Columbus and how I feel about it” said Kurtz, “We have been here, this is our home and Columbus just kind of got lost”
The music expanded with Ben Covington of Lummi and the Red Blanket Singers from tribes across the country. They circled around a large drum which they pounded in rhythm as they sang traditional songs. Ben would give information about his personal struggle as an Indigenous person in-between songs as to share the goal of his art.
“I stand before you honored, because we are a scarce people” Ben said looking out to the crowd of students, “because of the love of my grandmother, my mother, and my relatives, I stand before you so their voices can be heard.”
Covington played many songs with the red blankets singers but dedicated one in particular to respect veterans as he himself served in the military for several years.
At the end of the presentation, a blanketing ceremony was held to hand out blankets as a sign of honor and love for those who participated in creating the event. A blanket was given out to WCC president, Kathi Hiyane-Brown, Ethel, Renee, and the event hosts from WCC, Fialauia (one name), and Tara Villalba who are both supporting staff for the Intercultural Center.
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