Indigineous Peoples’ Day: The revision of cultural celebration

Salazar: ‘I’m not trying to change history, [but] I am trying to teach people about the truth’ By: Sabrina Thi, staff writer


Photo Courtesy of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

2018 Chumash Tomol Crossing, from Oxnard to Santa Cruz Island; Salazar is the first in the tomol.

It took centuries for the Indigenous peoples across all of North America to be finally recognized and celebrated by the American population, Indigenous Peoples Day was not proposed as a holiday until 1977. Evidence has pointed to the fact that Indigenous people have been living in California for over 9 thousand years, before European settlers from other areas arrived. 

Oct. 12 is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day, replacing Christopher Columbus Day. Oak Park Unified School District connected with a Chumash elder Alan Salazar, who can often be spotted wearing tribal jewelry and vibrant, patterned clothing for this day. 

Salazar, a 69-year-old Chumash and Tataviam elder, participated in some of the activities for Indigenous Peoples’ Day at OPUSD. According to the Indigenous Peoples’ Committee, the holiday itself has been celebrated ever since the early 1990s, but has been increasingly acknowledged and celebrated as time goes on.

“In the elementary school, we have field trips to the Chumash museum and … [a] trip to the island of Santa Cruz, which is a very important ancient, sacred spot for the Chumash,” Special Safety and Equity Counselor Holly Baxter said. “Those are ways we have connected in the past, but this year we really wanted to make sure we were recognizing it more implicitly.” 

On the night of Oct. 7, Salazar sent out a video message on ParentSquare, speaking about his heritage. On Friday, Oct. 16 he met over Google Meet with elementary school students and talked to them about Chumash history, traditions and culture. Teachers were also given resources for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including videos to show in their classrooms for students to familiarize themselves with this holiday and history of the land on which they stand. 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that we are on Indigenous lands, which are non-ceded lands, meaning they were not given to us,” Baxter said.  “We took these lands from the original inhabitants, the Indigenous people who lived here. And in our area, that is the Chumash tribe and there’s some smaller groups that were also in this area.” 

Salazar spoke about how his ancestors have gone through centuries of oppression, such as being placed in missions, which in turn, caused destruction by loss of culture and traditions. While at these missions, using their native language was extremely discouraged, and Christian leaders tried to convert Salazar’s tribespeople.

“They just saw us as inferior, a group of pagans,” Salazar said.

Salazar’s family also participated in every recent major war, such as the series of World Wars. 

“My family fought in these wars because they loved the land,” Salazar said. 

One cultural Chumash activity is canoeing. Salazar has been continuing the activity of paddling in Chumash canoes, called “tomolos,” for 23 years. It is a physically demanding activity. However, due to COVID-19, Salazar and other tribe members were unable to participate in these types of activities this year. Most cultural activities were impacted, as many were supposed to be public gatherings. 

Salazar, as a Chumash elder, continues to try to educate people about his tribe in order to counter misinformation.

“I’m not trying to change history, [but] I am trying to teach people about the truth,” Salazar said.