In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, Oct. 9, the Westminster community attended an all-school program to pay tribute to the culture and history of the Indigenous communities. The day kicked off with a keynote address in Werner Centennial Center by Lyla June Johnston, a musician, public speaker and an internationally recognized performance poet of diné (Navajo) and tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) lineages. Johnston spoke about her mission to share her own story and her research and knowledge on Indigenous people.
Johnson blends her study of human ecology at Stanford, graduate work in Indigenous pedagogy, and the traditional worldview she grew up with to inform her music, perspectives and solutions. Her doctoral research focused on the ways in which pre-colonial Indigenous Nations shaped large regions of Turtle Island, the name Indigenous communities call the Americas, to produce abundant food systems for humans and non-humans.
In her wide-ranging presentation, Johnson sang, recited her poetry and talked about the misconception of Columbus Day as a celebration of the discovery of America. Instead, she said it signaled the start of the mass destruction of native communities.
It is a “no brainer that today should be called Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day,” she said. European explorers first came to this country for the purpose of finding gold and people that could be enslaved.
Instead, the holiday should be a time to reflect on how much native peoples have endured, to recognize the legacy of oppression that they still endure and to preserve and to promote their history and call out misrepresentations of them in popular culture.
Following the presentation, students broke into home groups to discuss their take-aways from the presentation and what they might need to learn more about Indigenous peoples. In the afternoon, the community gathered again in Werner to watch a dance performance by Ángela Vela and to join her onstage in dance.
Vela graduated with a Master of Science in social work from the University of Texas at Austin and is the co-director at Native American and Indigenous Collective in Austin.
In her engagement with youth at the Indigenous Cultures Institute, Ángela provides lessons on food justice, the cultural and historical relevance of ancestral foods, and how access to traditional food ways and land can improve our well-being and mental health. Ángela is involved with danza Mexica and is learning about her mixed Indigenous roots as a descendant of the Dolores de las Minas community.
In her parting words to students, she asked them to be active learners. “You have so much responsibility as young people to be active learners. Be engaged and aware of what is happening around you.”