The beat of a drum and the melody of Native American songs flowed through the Pit on Monday evening as the Carolina Indian Circle celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day.
The CIC hosted the celebration in The Gift, a brick art installation next to the Student Union that incorporates imagery from Native American storytelling. The Indigenous Peoples' Day event, held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., was open to the community.
Members of the UNC student body and staff filled The Gift to experience readings, song and community, and a celebration where attendees were invited to participate in a ritualistic ceremony and cultural dance.
The University and the UNC American Indian Center issued a proclamation Sunday recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The proclamation follows years of petitions and activism from the Carolina Indian Circle for the University to recognize the day. It also acknowledges that UNC was built on land originally belonging to the Enos, Occaneechis, Shakoris and Sissipahaws.
AJ Hunt-Briggs, president of the CIC and member of the Lumbee Tribe, said the theme of this year’s celebration focused on the Every Child Matters Movement. The Every Child Matters Movement is an activist movement that supports children who died and adults who are survivors of Indian Residential Schools.
“It’s to raise awareness about how damaging residential schools were to Native people and culture and how it was government destruction of our culture,” Hunt-Briggs said.
Lydia Ruth Mansfield, CIC historian, said that — especially on Indigenous Peoples' Day — it is important for the CIC community to celebrate who they are. It is a powerful movement, she said.
Jake Gerardi is the CIC political action chairperson and a member of the Listuguj Mi’kmaq Nation. Gerardi performed the Mi’kmaq honor song to open the ceremony.
“The song is celebrating our being Native and our gathering together,” said Gerardi.
Native American dances were performed by Mansfield, CIC Culture Co-chairperson Jalyn Oxendine, first-year CIC member Halona Lewis, CIC Secretary Taylor Williams and first-year CIC member Evynn Richardson.
The performances included a Women’s Southern Traditional Dance, Fancy Shawl Dance, Jingle Dress Dance and a Hoop Dance.
The crowd was engaged throughout the night in conversation, celebration, applause and cheers for performers and speakers.
Before the performance, Mansfield said the women who danced at this celebration were also honoring all of the past women who have come and gone through Native American history.
Representatives from both the Phi Sigma Nu Fraternity and Alpha Pi Omega Sorority shared information about the two oldest Native American Greek Life organizations.
“As an organization, our mission is to promote and inspire both Native man and Native youth to challenge them intellectually, professionally, culturally and socially to be the best selves that they can be," said Zachary Richardson, a brother of Phi Sigma Nu and a doctoral student in the UNC School of Pharmacy.
Spectators of the celebration were also asked to participate in a smudging ceremony, a Native American cleansing ritual that is performed to drive away negative energy, Evynn Richardson said.
During the ceremony, a circle was formed around The Gift while a CIC member cleansed each individual with a smoking bundle of plants made from tobacco, sage and other herbs.
Junior Zianne Richardson is vice president of CIC. She and her sister Evynn Richardson are members of the Haliwa-Saponi and Nansemond tribes.
They performed a spoken word poem and a creation story in honor of Native American culture to conclude the ceremony before performing a dance that honors the female spirit.
"Just having that sense of community and other people coming, not just CIC, is what I love about it," Zianne Richardson said. "And I’m glad that we’re able to do that instead of just having to resort to only social media campaigns.”
Due to the pandemic, the CIC’s in-person celebrations have been limited. Last year’s Indigenous People’s Day Celebration was conducted via social media.
“It’s a physical meeting of us where other people walking by or people who choose to come, can learn something about us and actually talk to us about what our experiences are as Indigenous people,” Zianne Richardson said.
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