NEWBURYPORT — More than 100 people gathered at Moseley Woods on Monday to observe the city’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The event began with regional Indigenous participants Red Dawn, Alyssa Bright Moon Nock, John Price, Melanie Currier and others leading an opening circle of community solidarity with drumming, chanting and ceremony.
“We’re changing history by letting people understand that we were already here,” Nock said. “We’ve always been here.”
Nock noted that Indigenous people welcomed people from all over the world to come to this continent with the hope of coming together as one, but that’s not what happened when explorers such as Christopher Columbus arrived.
She said she didn’t want to focus on those atrocities, though.
“We’re not here to talk about the past,” she said. “We’re here to talk about today, the present, the future. Where we go from this moment on will make the difference in the world today.”
Nock asked the crowd to be mindful of everyone’s personal struggles and to work together to take care of all people, animals and the planet.
Mayor Donna Holaday read aloud a resolution that was approved in a 7-4 vote last month by the Newburyport City Council, recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
She thanked the young students at River Valley Charter School who approached her with a stack of letters in October 2020 calling for Columbus Day to be renamed. Their actions, with assistance from their teachers, set the groundwork for the council’s resolution, which was sponsored by Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand.
The city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alliance, the Human Rights Commission and a group from the First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist Church were also key players in moving the resolution forward in the past year.
The Rev. Rebecca Bryan, minister of the First Religious Society, took time Monday “as a symbol and a sign of our commitment” to acknowledge that everyone was “standing on the unseeded land, traditionally occupied by the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People.
Other speakers included Sarah Small Turtle of Lennox Island Mi’Kmaq First Nation on Prince Edward Island, Canada, who shared a prayer; Erin Hutchinson-Himmel and her children Sophie, Maggie and Charlie, who provided a history of Indigenous people in the Newburyport area.
; Mara Flynn of the First Religious Society and Theater in the Open, who spoke about this event being just the beginning of change; and Betsy Hazen, a longtime Newburyport resident who shared her guilt as a Mayflower descendent and other personal stories.
Teddy Speck of Theater in the Open announced a community read in partnership with the First Religious Society, the Museum of Old Newbury and Newburyport Public Library.
Copies of “This Land is Their Land” by David J. Silverman are available in Little Free Libraries around Greater Newburyport, as well as at Newburyport Public Library for adults who want to participate. Copies are also available for purchase at Jabberwocky Bookshop at 50 Water St.
For young readers, the community read is “History Smashers: The Mayflower” by Kate Messner and illustrated by Dylan Meconis.
The event also featured musical performances by Kristin Miller and her son Phoenix, Kristine Malpica of Imagine Studios, Lynne Taylor of River Valley Charter School and Meg Rayne.
Malpica explained the presence of two ribbons wrapped around a tree at the center of the event. The orange ribbon honored the children who survived boarding schools and the red ribbon represented missing and murdered Indigenous women.
She invited people to hang prayer-tied bundles on the tree.
Malpica also encouraged people to learn more about the Upstander Project, which uses documentaries and other resources to teach people how to stand up for those who are mistreated. To learn more, visit https://upstanderproject.org.
Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.