42nd Annual Native American Day at the Capitol
Eye-catching outfits, drumming and loud yells filled the Capitol Friday afternoon during Sacramento’s 42nd Annual Native American Day.
About 300 people and more than 30 exhibitors participated in this year’s events, including programs such as: the California Indian Legal Services, National Indian Justice Center and PG&E’s CARE program.
Native American Tribes from all over California, as well as local residents and legislators, came together to celebrate Native American cultures through traditional dances and inspirational guest speakers. The guest speakers included Mike Chrisman, Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency; Linda Adams, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; and Honorable Tribal Chairman Marshall McKay from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, among others.
"This is an event that needs to be held at the State Capitol," said Larry Myers, Executive Secretary of the Native American Heritage Comission. "What we wanted to do is make sure that Indians could come to the Capitol and for legislators to learn about Indians."
Myers said the event had been held at the Convention Center and at Cal Expo in past years, but he said he feels that hosting the event at the State Capitol gives Native American Day more impact because it is right in the legislator’s backyard.
Tribal Chairman McKay agreed with Myers.
"I’ve known about this event for about 20 years," McKay said. "I always thought this was a very beneficial event to native people because it gives us a forum close to a very iconic building."
Along with educating other people about their culture, many Native Americans feel that it is just as important to educate their own people.
During McKay’s speech about the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, three young tribal children attending Yocha Dehe Wintun Academy were brought to the stage to speak Patwin, their native language.
"We want to make sure that everybody knows that we have a language," McKay said. "We want these children to know our language."
But language wasn’t the only way that natives culturally expressed themselves during the event. The Quetzalcoatl Citlalli Aztec Dancers, among others, also performed native dances
."The dances are beautiful," spectator Yolanda Ledesma said. "Everybody is so beautiful, such beautiful people."
Even though Ledesma is Hispanic and this was her first time attending Native American Day, she said she enjoyed learning about the Native American culture and will continue to attend.
"Sacramento is just full of cultures, we just have to celebrate everybody’s," Ledesma said."It’s everybody’s country."
Native American Day was started in 1968 after California tribal leaders and Governor Ronald Reagan declared the fourth day of September "California Indian Day," according to the event brochure. In 1998, Assembly Bill 1953, signed by Governor Pete Wilson, legalized the event and made it a state holiday.The bill also changed the name of the event to "Native American Day."
To many Native Americans, Native American Day has now become their most important holiday.
"This is my Thanksgiving. We get all the people together and we get all the elders together, we get everyone to show their culture, their dances," said Chairwoman Rohnda Pope of Buena Vista Rancheria. "So for me, I give thanks for that, to me it’s Thanksgiving."