Indigenous communities across the country celebrated a long-standing demand for the recognition of the second Monday in October to be recognized as Indigenous Peoples' Day. For over a century, this date has been a federal holiday upholding a “conqueror” narrative, to the detriment of Native peoples. This year, President Biden made the first national proclamation formally recognizing the date as Indigenous Peoples' Day, in a public step toward reconciliation and healing.
Watch the highlights from the Indigenous Peoples' Day festivities on Randall's Island:
In New York, Honeysuckle joined the Indigenous People’s Day New York City committee (IPDNYC) for their annual event held on Randall’s Island, which has been celebrated for the past seven years to amplify tribal nations. Indigenous culture’s link with plant medicine was emphasized both at Randall’s Island and in Times Square, where we kicked off the first billboard campaign ever to officially salute Indigenous Peoples' Day, erected in partnership with the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Little Beach Harvest, Conor Green Tribal Economic Development, and the Indigenous Cannabis Coalition (ICANNC). The campaign prominently featured IPDNYC co-chair Chenae Bullock, managing director of Little Beach Harvest, which will soon open the Shinnecock Nation’s first cannabis wellness center and dispensary in Southampton in partnership with TILT Holdings.
“This will become the new normal,” Bullock said of the Indigenous Peoples' Day initiative with Honeysuckle and ICANNC.
Watch video footage of Honeysuckle's Times Square billboard campaign honoring Indigenous Peoples' Day:
Later that same day, New York Governor Kathy Hochul echoed President Biden’s declaration with one of her own: “For the first time ever, I am declaring that this is Indigenous Peoples' Day… Join me as we celebrate New York Indigenous Peoples, their sovereignty, [and] their place in history – and as we recognize the scars left by their unjust treatment [and] build foundations of trust.”
The Governor’s announcement came as a history-making response to IPDNYC, who had unsuccessfully petitioned Andrew Cuomo in the past to recognize the date for Indigenous heritage. On October 11, 2021, Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin became the first elected official to attend the committee’s Randall’s Island event, saying, “I am positive I won’t be the last.”
At the Randall’s Island gathering, representatives from numerous Indigenous cultures and nations converged, with some international attendees and supporters. Although New York City’s Columbus Day parade occurred on Fifth Avenue, the IPDNYC event saw a full 24 hours of festivities, honoring ancestors, and hearing testimony from a veritable who’s who of speakers and performers.
Ceremonies opened with a tobacco offering, and then people came forward to honor water as our most precious resource. Many at the event had brought water from their homelands, pouring it into the river as a tribute to the vitality of water and to symbolize the unity of all living things.
“May the powerful water bless us, to create life, longevity,” said a representative of the Yoruba peoples. Another member of the Yoruba Nation added, “As modern people here in 2021, I want our ancestors to hear us calling them. They’ve been waiting for us, so they come when we call them. And through that, they guide us to the wisdom, the knowledge and the practices that they left for us. We all need water, we all need to respect water, we all have to take good care of water, because we need it to survive.”
“Water is life!” chanted Cliff Matias, co-founder of IPDNYC and founder/president of the Redrum Motorcycle Club (a community organization modeled after the original Iroquois Five Nations). While the crowd repeated his cry, Matias continued, “Those of you who stood up for the water, whether you were at Standing Rock or Line 3 or on top of Mauna Kea, raise your hand, raise your fist.”
“It was just really powerful,” Bullock stated of the ceremonies. “So it was the answer to the prayers. Our hope is that the prayers that we collected today, that go into the water and go into the fire, go back to those homelands and spark something in those communities as they are also fighting against oppression.”
“We are beyond honored to be included in this monumental event,” Honeysuckle founder Ronit Pinto said of the Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration. “Not only do we strongly advocate for the recognition of Indigenous cultures worldwide, we also share a deep reverence for the information and knowledge contained within their traditions. I was very touched and moved by the sunrise ceremony and other ceremonies that we witnessed at the IPDNYC event on Randall’s Island.”
Speaker Mary Jane Oatman, founder of ICANNC and THC Magazine, Idaho ACLU president and member of the Nez Perce tribe, came to Randall’s Island with a call to action to protect Indigenous rights in plant medicine as federal cannabis legalization gains traction: “As people who have had a relationship with plant medicine since time immemorial, we must speak up to ensure our voices are front and center in the conversation to also protect our environment. The current ‘green rush’ mirrors the depredations of the ‘gold rush,’ and our future generations deserve better.”
Her words encapsulated why the Times Square billboard campaign made such an impact. Indigenous communities have viewed cannabis as a sacred plant for centuries, and have used it in conjunction with other traditional herbs for healing and in a variety of other applications. Now that many states have legalized cannabis retail and processing, with Congressional bills in the works to push for federal acceptance, tribes are seeking to take their rightful place in the profitable industry. Little Beach Harvest will be the first Indigenous-owned cannabis brand in New York, and will focus on providing career education, advancement and hiring opportunities for Native people. It’s a strategy to jumpstart the tribal economy that many hope can be replicated with other Indigenous communities around the nation.
“We’re here,” said Harry Wallace, Chief of the Unkechaug Indian Nation, as he joined IPDNYC’s festivities. We survived the onslaught of encroachment and degradation and genocide, and we’re still here. We still have our traditions.”
Reflecting on the greater significance of Indigenous Peoples' Day, Wallace concluded, “The foundation of our understanding is that we have a way of life that respects all living things. All things have Spirit, and we were taught – our way of life was taught – that all living things that have Spirit are equal. And they must be respected as equals. No one thing is better than the other. 7 billion people? That’s an exponential growth in the last 200 years. We better think about what’s our plan for the next 200.”
To learn more about Chenae Bullock and the Shinnecock Indian Nation, visit moskehtuconsulting.com or follow @moskehtuconsulting on Instagram. For more on Little Beach Harvest, visit littlebeachharvest.com or follow @littlebeachharvest on Instagram.