The decision to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ day in lieu of Columbus day was met with cheer and applause from the crowd at the Long Beach City Council meeting Tuesday night.
The newly dubbed holiday will be celebrated Oct. 9 of this year, but won’t be officially observed until 2018 in Long Beach.
While still federally recognized as Columbus Day — which has been a national holiday since 1937— Indigenous Peoples’ day strives to acknowledge and celebrate Native Americans’ history and culture.
Cheyenne Phoenix, president of the Native American student association at Long Beach City College, described to the councilmembers and crowd what it was like to grow up as a Native American.
“I was ashamed of who I was, my long hair and my name,” Phoenix said. “Students would see me as something other than what they were.”
In the meeting, she urged the council to approve the holiday.
“I am still here, our people are still here,” Phoenix said. “I urge you to vote unanimously to maintain the right side of history, and please do something that will be better for this community, for the world to see.”
According to the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe’s website, much of the city of Long Beach is located where the tribe used to reside. Cal State Long Beach is home to the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribes sacred site located next to the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. The site and most of the Los Angeles metropolitan area make up the ancient Indigenous city of Puvungna.
Long Beach is not the first city to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ day. In August, the Los Angeles city council voted and approved a similar motion that will start no later than 2019. Other cities including San Luis Obispo and Salt Lake City have voted to replace Columbus Day.
Before the unanimous vote, members of the city council expressed their feelings on the proposal.
“Today is a day I think is important to a lot of folks, a day that has been long coming,” said Councilmember Jeannine Pearce who brought forth the resolution.
Councilmembers Suzie Price, Roberto Uranga and Lena Gonzalez echoed similar praise and support for the resolution.
Maylei Blackwell, a UCLA professor of Chicano Studies and Long Beach resident, thanked the city council for the decision.
“A lot of folks want to put Indian folks only in the past, but we are here now in front of you, speaking with you, being with you,” Blackwell said. “So with an open heart I honor your decision and I thank you,”
After the vote, councilmember Jeannine Pearce embraced and congratulated everyone who supported the resolution in the hallway.
Michèle Fonke, who attended the meeting, is originally from West Africa and said she is inspired by indigenous people and their culture.
“Native American people have captured my heart because the more I discover about them the more I understand about the culture, which is profoundly grounded in love principles,” Fonke said. “They represent peace and love on this planet.”