The event took place following Long Beach’s city council meeting in which the city voted to honor the existence of American Indians in society.
The celebration included music performances, presentations of traditional flags and scarves and speaker Patricia Lopez, who was one of the frontwomen who fought for the holiday change in Long Beach.
The event was kicked off by a group of men and women playing drums and singing a traditional American Indian song for the audience. The song was said to be the “flag song,” about the sacrifices American Indians have made in the multiple wars the U.S. have fought.
Gilbert Lopez, an American Indian Supreme Court judge, was playing a drum he made for the students of Cal State Long Beach and said the song played was what they considered the Native national anthem.
Lopez also spoke about the eagle flag waving in the wind at the entrance of the event. He said the 24 leaves on the flag represent the first 24 American Indians to graduate from CSULB, mentioning that the school is one of few in the state that hold traditional celebrations for Native students.
Patricia Lopez spoke to the audience about the struggles and process of putting Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the calendar, both for Long Beach and Los Angeles county.
“This process was not overnight,” Lopez said. “It took two and a half years of working, lobbying, crying, presenting and coalescing with other groups to make it happen.”
Lopez described the night the L.A. city council voted on the measure, saying that there were people in the lobby yelling racial slurs at her, and a Native woman who went to speak out against her own father. She said the process of getting the holiday passed in Long Beach was much easier.
“I think of everything my ancestors went through and I can’t be happy, but I am very relieved and grateful,” Lopez said.
She closed by saying that there is more work to do for American Indians, including getting more Natives on the city council. Lopez also encouraged the audience to fight for what they believe in.
“The issue of organizing has to start with the clarity of a message,” said Lopez.
Fourth district councilmember Daryl Supernaw attended the celebration as both a member of the Osage nation and a CSULB alumnus. He spoke about the various American Indian celebrations throughout the city — including an event he held in the city council chambers in November to kick off Native American Heritage Month.
Supernaw said that despite these celebrations, there is still more to be done to educate people about American Indian history.
“This event, what we’re doing here today is a great sign that we may be resurrecting [American Indian] history and we’ll learn more about these backgrounds that are so prevalent in our culture,” Supernaw said.
The celebration ended with a second traditional performance about the good that people try to do and the obstacles they must overcome to do so, a telling narrative of the group and their recent accomplishments.