LOOKING BACK: How Newton celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day

Tai Pelli poses with Galeria L’Alvilda, a professor and contemporary abstract expressionist fine art artist. (Photo by Jazmyn Gray/BU News Service)

By Jazmyn Gray
Boston University News Service

NEWTON — Music and artwork celebrating Indigenous lives filled Albemarle Park last Monday as dozens gathered to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in Newton.

“It’s a good day to be Indigenous,” Cacike Jorge Baracutei Estevez, founder of Higuayagua Taino of the Caribbean, said to a cheering crowd at the Oct. 11 celebration.

The event, featuring Native American traditions, food and art, was the Commonwealth’s largest ceremonial celebration for Indigenous Peoples Day. Attendees and organizers said the Indigenous-led event was a dream several years in the making.

“We did it,” said Chali’Naru Dones, co-founder and chair of the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee. “The Indigenous Peoples’ Day Newton Committee did it — along with our allies, supporters, Indigenous peoples. That’s what’s made this happen — support.”

Bruja healers Juliet Diaz and Luana Morales perform spiritual root cleanings in front of an alter containing ancestral goods — the gratitude offering, covered in bees, contained elements known to attract spiritual desires, such as beauty and sweetness. “As healers,” Diaz said, “Most of the time it’s not our job to heal that person, but to help that person heal themselves spiritually.” (Photo by Jazmyn Gray/BU News Service)

A traditional directional prayer led by Ata Bibi Inarunikia Pastrana, Bohio Atabei Jaguar Warrior, kicked off the event’s opening ceremony, which included a pipe ceremony, ancestors honoring song, land acknowledgment and round dance.

Wampanoag elders were invited to participate in opening ceremonial events as an acknowledgment of their claim to the land. The rest of the day featured colorful performances from Indigenous dancers, poets, artists, and speakers.

Tai Pelli traveled from Indiana to speak at the event.

Nayana LaFond paints to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous People. (Photo by Jazmyn Gray/BU News Service)

A Boriken Taino tekina and international relations and human rights officer of the United Confederation of Taino People, Pelli said she “used to feel like a lone voice in the desert” traveling around Massachusetts and New Hampshire to advocate for Indigenous rights.

The last time she spoke publicly in Massachusetts, she said, was in October 1992.

Pelli said that’s why Indigenous Peoples’ Day Newton “marks something really big” for her. Not only is it her first time speaking publicly in Massachusetts in almost 30 years, but it’s a sign of progress.  “We have been invisible to many for the longest time,” she said. “But that time is over.”

The celebration coincided with the 2021 Boston Marathon, which was rescheduled to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, an Indigenous Boston Marathon Champion from the 1930s, was remembered with an ancestral honor song and dance led by his descendants from Narragansett.           

Newton’s first Indigenous Peoples Day celebration coincides with the 2021 Boston Marathon, which was rescheduled due to the pandemic. (Photo by Jazmyn Gray/BU News Service)

Between performances, attendees could browse the booths featuring Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs. From empanadas made with Indigenous Andean ingredients to live art raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous people to Wampanoag wampum jewelry—the outdoor market highlighted the diverse ventures within the Indigenous community.

Last year, Newton voted to rename Columbus Day and add Indigenous Peoples Day to its city calendar. Resolution co-sponsor and Newton City Councilor, Bill Humphrey, said the event has been a “really exciting opportunity to reconnect Newton with its Indigenous groups and to learn more about different cultures, which is something Newton has already been known to like.”

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