Indigenous Peoples’ Day Shifts To Story

by Lucy Gellman, Arts Paper, Oct. 11, 2021

The drum coasted over the New Haven Green, a steady heartbeat as voices began to swell above it. Huddled around a microphone, members of Red Territory led each other in a round, the song catching on something as it wove upwards. Four dozen pairs of eyes turned toward the sound and listened. The smell of sage hung low in the air.

Monday afternoon, Native artists, activists, and storytellers gathered at a now-annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on the New Haven Green. Organized by Norm Clement and Ricky Looking Crow, the event sought to create a space for Indigenous people to gather, celebrate, and share the stories of where they come from and who they are.

Lucy Gellman photo

Clement is a member of the Penobscot Nation of Northern New England and a confederate member of the local Quinnipiac tribe. Looking Crow is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Northern New England, primarily Maine.

“I got a few things on my mind today,” Clement said early in the ceremony. “It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in New Haven. People are still fighting to be recognized in this state, around this country, we’re still fighting to get rid of the colonizer’s day.”

“I think today is all about unity, about praying together. It’s about awareness of the day,” said Looking Crow as he and Clement laid out sage, sweet-grass, turkey feathers for smudging, and a large bag of tobacco for prayers. He motioned to the grass beneath him, where yellowjackets buzzed through patches of overgrowth. “This is our church.”

This year’s celebration came almost 15 months after the city’s Board of Education, which recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, voted to change the name of Christopher Columbus Family Academy on Blatchley Avenue. The City of New Haven does not yet recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day; alders voted on “Italian Heritage Day” instead last September.

For over two hours, attendees approached a communal mic with the same message: We’re still here. We always have been. And we’re going to keep resisting.

[This article can be read in its entirety at www.newhavenarts.org/arts-paper/articles/indigenous-peoples-day-shifts-to-story]

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