Silvestre Hernandez, who belongs to the Huastec, Totonac and Comanche tribes, was at Gainesville City Hall Monday playing various traditional songs on different flutes from his culture. His shirt read “missing, murdered indigeneous women” with two red hand prints on it.
The shirt’s from an organization called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women that educates people about the killings and helps the families of the murdered cope.
As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center has reported 5,712 cases of missing Indigenous women, but only 116 were recorded in the U.S. Department of Justice missing persons database, according to Native Women's Wilderness.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, a 46-year-old Gainesville resident, was just one of several Native people who celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, where Mayor Lauren Poe proclaimed Oct. 10 as Indigenous Peoples Day.
Poe read a city proclamation authorizing the holiday at a ceremony recognizing the contributions and resilience of north central Florida’s Indigenous peoples.
Addressing about 43 people at City Hall, Poe read out how Columbus Day signified the colonization and oppression of Indigenous people.
The recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day is made in “an effort to acknowledge past atrocities and to begin a process of healing and reconciliation,” Poe said while tearing up during the emotional ceremony.
The second Monday of October has been the national holiday Columbus Day for decades. But Christopher Columbus, the namesake for the holiday, has been regarded as a controversial historical figure. His crew kidnapped, raped and abused the Native American people, and his voyage led to the dealth of many Indigenous people.
Nicole Nesberg, a Santa Fe history professor, said she comes out every October and November for Indigenous Peoples Day and American Indian Heritage Month.
Nesberg, who specializes in American Indian and African American history, said calling Oct. 10 Indigenous Peoples Day is a “huge cultural shift.”
Americans once elevated Columbus’ status for Italian Americans who were being discriminated against, she said. But when people learn the full history, Nesberg said they realize he shouldn’t be honored.
The new name is reflective of the community embracing all parts of the nation, Nesberg said.
Over 100 cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day including Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston. Gainesville has been celebrating the holiday since 2018, and unveiled a sign in 2021 honoring the Potano people.
The city was founded on the land of the Potanos — a subset of the Timucua people. But according to the sign, most of the Potano and Timucua people were killed from disease and violence in the late 1700s due to colonization.
After the mayor read the proclamation, some of the members of Indigenous tribes read a prayer followed by a drumming and vocal performance.
Terrell Anquoe, a 60-year-old Gainesville resident, was part of the performance of his grandfather’s song called “Billy Evan’s Horse.” He is a part of the Kiowa, Comanche and Taino tribes, he said.
The proclamation is meaningful to him because he wants more people to learn the history of Indigenous peoples, he said.
“That’s the tricky one,” he said. “You can’t just go by what is on the internet.”
The city and the Indigenous People’s Task Force will host free events open to the public during the week to celebrate Indigneous people in the community. On Tuesday, attendees went to the Harn Museum of Art to experience art and culture from Latin and Indigineous America through tours, activities and dance.
There will be native dancers and drummers at Morningside Nature Center Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to celebrate the Potano and Timucuan people.
Sylvia Paluzzi, who is part of the Chorotega tribe, was also in attendance. She’s the chair of the Indigenous People’s Task Force in Gainesville who helped organize this event.
It’s important the city recognizes this day because this land belongs to Indigenous people, Paluzzi said.
“When we continue to celebrate Columbus Day we devalue the heritage and the culture that was here that predated his arrival by millennia,” she said.
In order to change the perception that Columbus was the first person on this land, the day needs to have a different name, Paluzzi said.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is recognizing all the nations that can’t represent themselves anymore,” Paluzzi said.
Contact Alexa Herrera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexaherrera
Alexa Herrera is a junior journalism major who is the metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. She is also a copy editor for The Florida Political Review and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. In her free time she enjoys cheering on the New York Rangers during hockey season, listening to Harry Styles and spending time with her friends.