Before Gainesville’s mayor gave his speech in front of city hall Monday, Anna Lopez had three people help hold up her handmade, traditional Native American quilt.
The pure cotton quilt took her two years and eight months to finish. It features traditional medicine colors from the Lipan Apache tribe, Native American geometric symbols, a bear in the center and Seminole bear-paw patchwork.
Lopez, who belongs to the Chumash tribe, joined about 75 other people to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day Monday at city hall, where Mayor Lauren Poe introduced a proclamation officially acknowledging the holiday. He also unveiled a new sign honoring indigenous people in front of city hall.
The city’s sign read “we remember them with compassion” in English and in Timucua — the language of the Potano people, who are a subset of the Timucua people. Gainesville was founded on the traditional homelands of the Potanos, but most of the Potano and the Timucua people were wiped out by disease and violence in the late 1700s, according to the sign.
“Therefore, we are on Potano land,” Poe said during his speech. “We are beholden to their traditions and owe them the honor and respect that they have earned from all of us.”
The historical marker also recast the legacy of the man honored by Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in 1971. President Joe Biden honored Indigenous Peoples Day Monday, marking the first year a U.S. president has officially recognized the holiday. The city first officially celebrated the holiday in 2018, city spokesperson Shelby Taylor wrote in a text message to The Alligator.
Christopher Columbus and his crew enslaved, kidnapped or raped more than 1,000 indigenous people, and his voyage led to mass deaths of indigenous people. Since the 1990s, cities across the country have begun to stop formally celebrating Columbus Day because of what he did to indigenous people.
Poe also spoke about the abuse and inequities that indigenous people suffer. The city has an obligation to oppose systemic racism, he said, which leads to high poverty rates and disparities in health care and education.
The sign in front of city hall recognizes the struggle of indigenous people, Lopez said, which means a lot to her as a Native American. There should be more awareness about the present issue of missing indigenous women and children from reservations.
Since 2016, the Urban Indian Health Institute has reported 5,712 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. But only 116 of them were logged in the U.S. Department of Justices’ database.
“The United States was good at pointing out everybody else’s atrocities and their genocide,” Lopez said. “But our genocide is still going on.”
Sylvia Paluzzi, a 66-year-old Gainesville resident, helped create the sign and plan Monday’s celebration.
“It first recognizes them as the most marginalized of all groups. They’re often invisible,” she said. “Everything that we have built this country on was on the shoulders of a whole other population of people that no longer exists.”
Paluzzi is also the chair of the Indigenous People’s Task Force in Gainesville. She said the organization is planning an all-day celebration to showcase different cultures and heritages for next year’s Indigenous Peoples Day.
Several city commissioners attended the event Monday, including Commissioner Reina Saco. The city’s historical marker is the beginning of more education on Native populations in the U.S., she said. She plans to support future indigenous events to showcase different cultures and languages.
“It’s the kind of thing where you wonder, why hasn’t this happened already?” Saco asked. “And then when it does, at least you’re really happy it happened in your lifetime and you can see it happen.”
Contact Meghan at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.
Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.