Drummers performed at Indigenous Peoples Day at South Portland on Oct. 11. Haleigh Couture photo

SOUTH PORTLAND — Oct. 11, 2021 marked the third-year recognition of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day and first ever observance in South Portland.

The event sponsored by South Portland’s Human Rights Commission welcomed roughly 75 people gathering to commemorate the indigenous lands and members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. The holiday was formerly recognized as Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas, now shifts awareness to celebrate Native Americans and their cultures.

Chairman of the Human Rights Commission and descendant of the Taíno people, Pedro A. Vazquez urges people to become informed of the heritage of what he claims as the exploited, unsurrendered homeland of the Wabanaki people.

“Indigenous Peoples Day observances as being part of a reckoning in the country,” said Vazquez. “You don’t have to go back very far into our common shared history to see that indigenous folks have been disrespected, marginalized, stolen from, which continues. And that’s just how things have been done; business as usual.”

About 75 people attended the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in South Portland on Oct. 11. Haleigh Couture photo

Movement towards tribal sovereignty in the state has been slow. Vazquez is hopeful that within his lifetime, the Wabanaki people will be recognized fully and enjoy the rights that other federally recognized tribes have.

At South Portland’s celebration, the Burnurwurbskek Singers, (members of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and MicMac tribes) performed their traditional music to promote awareness of the existing indigenous culture. Lead drummers Nick Bear and Nyle Sockbeson said educating younger generations by performing their traditional instruments around the state is important.

“It’s good to show our culture and show that we are still here, as we share and pass down these traditions,” said the group.

Jean Flahive said she has become familiar with the Passamaquoddy tribe, as she has a great affiliation and connection after publishing two children’s books focusing on Native Americans. She is optimistic that as more events are held, more people will become informed.

“I think it’s time that we remember and honor our history,” Flahive said. “They (Wabanaki people) were here long before us and they need to be recognized.”

Awareness and embracing one’s heritage is important to indigenous peoples, Flahive said. Values emphasized at the eventer included respect, sharing and uplifting the voices of indigenous members.

While President Biden became the first U.S president to announce a proclamation officially recognizing Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples Day, there is still much to be recognized, said Vazquez.

For instance, he said, sustainability was long practiced by his ancestors.

“You know indigenous culture is more about stewardship, so we understand that we are just here on this land to take care of it for the next generation,” said Vazquez. “By traditional ecological knowledge, you don’t take more than you give. That’s our culture. Now it (this notion) has been repackaged, rebranded because it is going to be inconvenient for the dominating population and so now it is an urgent thing, (we) could have told you all that.”

The way “occupying forces” have used the land have now caused what Vazquez proclaims as a state in which our global climate is in dire condition. Things must change to avoid disaster, he said.

“We need to learn to become a human family, where we learn to respect each other and share,” Vazquez said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: