The Grass dancers shake and bend, the high curves of their hair "roaches" like clipped horses' manes. The men move slowly around the large chalk circle in the center in the park, stepping to the drum beat, long ribbons and yarns on their outfits and leggings almost brushing the ground, the fringes hiding and disguising intricate foot movements. Beneath a shade outside the circle, a group of Indian men sit beating time with drum sticks on the large northern drum, singing in a high falsetto; women join in the chorus.
Hundreds of people on the lawn watch while hundreds of others mull about the Indian craft and food booths that surround the circle. Then the drumming suddenly stops and, as if on cue, the dancers all finish precisely on the last beat.
The men step out of the circle and a group of women dancers enter, each with an eagle plume atop her head and holding an eagle wing fan. They are wearing long buckskin and taffeta dresses reaching down to their ankles, some adorned with metal disks sewn in patterns. The southern drum group begins a faster tempo. The Jingle-dress dancers take off with quick movements, disks clattering, a hint of stiffness in their flowing steps, a sense of calm in their energy.
We are at the Berkeley Indigenous Peoples' Day Pow-wow.
Every year on the Saturday closest to the traditional date of the arrival of Columbus at Turtle Island, this year on October 11th, Berkeley holds a pow-wow and Indian market, to celebrate the survival and revitalization of Indigenous cultures, and to commemorate Native resistance to the forces still threatening to destroy them.

Tomorrow marks
five hundred and three years
since Columbus found his way
to the Americas, half
a millennium and three years
since the story of contact began,
since Europe came west.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary.
Five hundred and three winters
have transpired, as many springs,
summers, and falls. Those seasons
are gone, those times have passed,
there is nothing we can do,
they are gone.
Tomorrow we will remember
October 12th, 1492,
here in the United States,
tomorrow will be Columbus Day;
here in Berkeley,
it will be Indigenous Peoples' Day;
here in Califas, Aztlàn,
it will be Dìa de la Raza.
As many winters have passed,
as many suns have set, as many
minutes and seconds have come
and gone, up to the same tomorrow:
Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day,
Dìa de la Raza;
but they are not the same.
For we are different and we mean different
when we celebrate
the discovery of a new world, imagine,
a new world, or different when we solemnize
the most severe genocide in the history
of the world, the most severe, or when
we recognize the birth of a new race,
a new race. For twenty-four hours tomorrow
we can celebrate the greatest act
of the Renaissance and the act of the single man
in Columbus Day,
and we can solemnize
the death of tens of millions
of Native Americans and the extermination
of whole peoples, such as those
on the islands of first contact,
remembered in Indigenous Peoples' Day
and we can
recognize miscegenation and the possibility
of contact between races
in the birth of the hybrid, mestizo peoples
in the Dìa de la Raza.
Tomorrow is Columbus Day,
it is Indigenous Peoples' Day,
it is Dìa de la Raza: all exactly
mark five hundred and three years
and all exactly mark something different.
The events that have happened
in the interim have happened,
nothing can change that.
The first joy at the sight of land
happened. The unspeakable terror
of parents watching their child
fed to the conquistadors' dogs happened.
Five hundred and three years of events
took place, we cannot change that.
We cannot stand up like Las Casas
and say this must stop; we cannot
tell Tainos, on first seeing the Spanish arrive,
to run, to run, and not stop running.
What was, was.
We cannot change the number of days, nor
can we change the events that happened.
We can, though, choose to remember or forget,
to celebrate, solemnize, recognize. (1st stanza of Alfred Arteaga's "Tomorrow Today")
The return of the Native American began in earnest in the 1980s, during the Sanctuary Movement in California. Suddenly, people apprehended at the borders spoke neither English nor Spanish. Isa Gucciardi, who managed a translation company in San Francisco, reported getting calls from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as it was called then, with requests for interpreters who spoke “Indian” languages from southern Mexico and Central America. “We had to double the rate, since it was so difficult to find anyone who spoke English and Tzotzil Maya,” she said.
Despite their best efforts to wipe them out, at the start of the 21st century, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and scores of other indigenous peoples have returned.
They are working in our restaurants, stocking shelves in our stores, building houses and doing our landscaping. They are taking care of our kids while we’re at the office, and giving birth to more Native Americans in our hospitals. They are fueling the economic expansion, contributing to a society that looks upon them with disdain.

Native American Studies Speaker Series, 2008-09
Indigenous Writing Across Time and Genre
Janet McAdams
Monday, Oct. 13 Open Mic with Janet McAdams
5-7 p.m. Morrison Library (UC Berkeley)
Co-sponsored by Lyric and Achiote Press
Tuesday, Oct. 14 Lecture: "The Poet-Critic, The Native Writer"
2 p.m. 554 Barrows Hall
Janet McAdams is the author of two collections of poetry, Feral (Salt 2007) and The Island of Lost Luggage (Arizona 2000), which won the Diane Decorah First Book Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and the American Book Award. With Geary Hobson and Kathryn Walkiewicz, she is editing the anthology, The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing after the Removal (Oklahoma, in press). New projects include Red Weather, a novel about the sterilization of Indian women in the 1970s, a memoir, Not too Sane: Art and the Romance of Suffering, and a third collection of poetry, The Lookout Book. Janet edits Earthworks, a book series from Salt Publishing focusing on indigenous poetry. Her poems have been published in North American Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Women's Review of Books, Kenyon Review, and other magazines. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry. In addition to teaching creative writing, environmental literature, and indigenous literature, she is a practitioner and teacher of Integral Yoga.

Originally Published: October 12th, 2008

Javier O. Huerta's debut collection Some Clarifications y otros poemas (Arte Publico 2007) received the 31st Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine. He is also the author of American Copia (2012). A graduate of the Bilingual MFA Program at UT El Paso, Huerta is currently a PhD student in the...

  1. October 15, 2008

    it's strange that no one has commented on this. having been to chile and going through el dia de la raza wondering what the heck that means, while teaching English to college kids, i've had my own thoughts on it all. it's interesting that there's three views of this day. i wonder if it's all celebration in each one.
    thanks javier for posting this, it's good to get the other side of angle once in a while. those of us who are young (like myself) and didn't learn much about columbus besides him sailing the ocean blue have a right to know this kind of stuff.
    i also am now inclined to see "smoke signals!"

  2. October 20, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    "Some days, it's a good day to die. And some days, it's a good day to have breakfast."
    Belated happy Día de la Raza!