The Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow in 2018. Credit: William Newton

The Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow and Indian Market will return to downtown Berkeley on Oct. 8 after two years of being celebrated virtually. The event will mark the 30th anniversary of Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday that originated locally as a counter-protest to Columbus Day.

“Berkeley wants to celebrate the important place that Indigenous people hold in this country,” then-Mayor Loni Hancock said in a 1992 New York Times article announcing the city’s decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. “Their societies and philosophies flourished long before Columbus arrived, and they continue until today.”

Planned festivities for Saturday include gourd dancing, round dancing, intertribal dancing, and a dance contest co-sponsored by the city. The event, which will take place at Civic Center Park, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., is free, and Native American food and arts and crafts will be available to buy.

A land acknowledgement by Desiree and Carla Muñoz of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe will precede the powwow’s Grand Entry parade, which starts at 1 p.m. 

Longtime Berkeley activist John Curl advocated for the first Indigenous People’s Day in 1992 and is a member of Indigenous Peoples Day Committee, the group that organized this weekend’s powwow. He said the committee’s goal was to transform a celebration of colonialism and imperialism into a celebration of resistance and renewal for the people who “did not go across the world to steal somebody else’s land and property, but who stayed home and tried to live in sustainable ways.”

Civic Center Park fountain and area to be revitalized

Credit: Turtle Island Monument Project

In addition to live music and dancing, this year’s event will include a rededication of the park’s long-dormant central fountain to the Bay Area’s indigenous communities.  

“We started the process (of revitalizing the fountain) 30 years ago, and it’s still going on,” Curl said. 

For years, work was delayed and called off due to the concerns of preservationists, Curl said. But “now, it’s back on track, and we want to let the people of Berkeley know that there is going to be a new fountain … the Turtle Island monument.” (Turtle Island is another name for Earth, and is a reference to an Indigenous creation story that described land as being formed on the back of a turtle.) 

In 2020, the City Council allocated $300,000 in funding for the Civic Center Park Turtle Garden as part of the Measure T1 Phase 2 projects. The new monument is in the process of being designed, according to city documents

Clean California also awarded the city a $591,666 local grant in March to “convert the fountain into a native and drought-tolerant plant pollinator garden with irrigation; install Native-designed bronze turtle and concrete medallion sculptures; install seating on the fountain outer ring; renovate the uneven flagstone terrace; renovate the Peace Wall tiles at the terrace; and install new benches, signage, and trash receptacles.” The state body noted that “the fountain is currently used as a super-sized public trash can for trash and human waste, and is a lethal trap for birds. The City annually removes 277 tons of trash and illegal dumping from the park.” Clean California estimates the total project cost will be $946,666.

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Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...