This week, several New Haven groups — including Unidad Latina en Acción — hosted celebrations and protests in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates Indigenous peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures –– in opposition to the federally-recognized Columbus Day designated on Oct. 12. Community members joined the organizers at the corner of Blatchley Avenue and Grande Avenue in Fair Haven, where the Christopher Columbus Academy is located. Around 60 people wearing masks and cultural clothing served a buffet of food, as traditional music played from a loudspeaker.
“If we don’t understand where we come from and how we are, there will be discriminatory, racist and xenophobic discourse,” attendee Tamara Nuñez del Prado told the News in an interview translated by the News from Spanish. “Because, in reality, nobody is illegal… We are all migrants… from President Donald Trump to the last citizen that chooses to discriminate against Indigenous populations.”
Nuñez del Prado described the rich diversity of the Latinx community in New Haven. She said there are descendants of Mayans, Nahua, Quechua and Aymara peoples who have migrated out of necessity due to political injustices in Latin America.
Adriana Rodriguez Rodriguez, a community member at the event on Sunday, said in an interview translated from Spanish by the News that ULA is an organization that fights for the rights of immigrants and Indigenous peoples. They chose to hold the event outside Christopher Columbus Academy in opposition to the academy’s namesake. ULA was also involved in the movement to take down the Columbus statue located in Wooster Park, which the city dismantled in June.
“We are celebrating the day of the Indigenous, not of Christopher Columbus, who committed genocide and violated the lands of those before us,” Rodriguez said, originally in Spanish.
The New Haven Board of Education voted earlier this year to rename the school and to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but the academy’s new name has yet to be announced.
Lucía Nuñez del Prado, a teenager whose family is involved in ULA’s activism, said that the name Columbus is very “symbolic” to her community.
“It’s like a battle we had,” Nuñez del Prado said.
Nuñez del Prado also told the News she believes the Academy’s new name should be an Indigenous name.
Attendee and ULA organizer John Jairo Lugo echoed similar sentiments. He added that he hopes Indigenous communities can obtain acknowledgement from the New Haven community. Jairo said he supports naming the school after the Quinnipiac, citing a massacre of fifty Quinnipiac people not far from the event’s location and a lack of recognition for the extrajudicial killings.
Tamara Nuñez del Prado, citing the Quinnipiac history in New Haven, told the News that she hopes Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated by honoring continued Indigenous presence in the Americas.
“There was a genocide and more than 30 million aboriginals, true Americans, were killed since the Colonies and Spanish Conquest… this is a small celebration of Indigenous resistance,” Nuñez del Prado said.
The Fair Haven event preceded several Indigenous Peoples’ Day events that occured on the New Haven Green on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, various Connecticut youth leaders hosted an intersectional protest in support of both Indigenous peoples and the Black Lives Matter movement.
A few hours later, Norman Momowetu Clement of Connecticut’s Golden Hill Paugussett tribe led a second celebration intended to “proclaim that after 528 years of colonial rule and oppression we are still here, still strong and still resilient,” according to the event’s social media listing.
Just under 50 people attended the first event, including several Yale students. One attendee, Oscar Turner ’24, has engaged with the Native American community at Yale by joining the Native American Cultural Center drumming group Red Territory. At Monday’s second event, Turner hit a drum and sang the “Eagle Song” — a song meant to pray for the return of murdered Indigenous women.
“Yale is an educational institution,” Turner said. “While it’s built on slavery, today we praise it as a learning environment. We’re really just trying to correct history [and] make sure people realize that Columbus was not a character that should be celebrated. It’s a day to celebrate indigenous joy, and to make people realize that we’re still here.”
At the earlier event, speakers included Yale students and other community members, who reminded the crowd of the various problems that Indigenous communities across the country face. Some of the issues that speakers cited include increased risk to disease, more frequent exposure to poverty and homelessness and a uniquely high rate of human trafficking and murder –– especially among Native women.
Lex Schultz ’24, one of the speakers at the event, emphasized that the day should serve as a reminder of the need to decolonize. Schultz said that after speaking with fellow first years, she believed some students were confused as to what the term really meant.
“Decolonization is not a metaphor,” Schultz said. “It is not a synonym for simply improving society. It’s not to be co-opted by settlers for a buzzword for your Twitter feed. It’s not capitalistic. It’s not claiming that voting is sacred. It’s not participating in upholding settler colonial systems, and it is certainly not die-hard patriotism for a country born of our ancestors’ trauma.”
Quinnipiac means “people of the long water land” in the Quiripi language.
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Clarification, Oct. 13: This article has been updated to accurately reflect the groups that organized the events.