Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Philadelphia-style happens for the second time on Monday (with events throughout the weekend), thanks to an executive order by Mayor Kenney in 2021 replacing Columbus Day with a celebration of Native Americans on the second Monday in October — an idea we suggested Philly should steal back in 2016.
Official or not, local Native Americans have long hosted celebrations of Indigenous cultures in Philly, and this year is another opportunity to learn from, engage with, and honor Indigenous People striving and thriving right here in our city and across the country.
For anyone looking to celebrate the weekend devoted to Indigenous People, Philadelphia has plenty to offer, Friday through Monday. But, long after that’s over, one way to honor our Native history is to recognize the Lenape tribes — the first people to occupy this region — as sovereign nations with rights to land in our state. Pennsylvania is one of about a dozen states that doesn’t recognize a single tribe. (Those conversations started last year with Gov. Wolf.)
Below, ideas for ways to engage.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY PHILADELPHIA EVENTS
1. Experience living history at the Museum of the American Revolution, October 8-10
The Old City attraction has always paid attention to Native Americans’ involvement in the Revolutionary War. This weekend, they add a pair of free performances of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) social dances on their outdoor plaza (October 8 at 11am and 2pm).
Inside, Kehala (Tuscarora Nation, Turtle Clan) and Jordan (Mohawk, Bear Clan) Smith meet one-on-one with visitors, and a museum educator gives 10-minute gallery talks on the life of Akiatonharónkwen, a high-ranking Native American officer in the Continental forces.
Admission $21-24 per adult, $19 senior, student and teacher, $13 ages 6-17, $2 ACCESS cardholder, free ages 5 & under. 101 S. 3rd Street. Tickets available here.
2. Celebrate at Bartram’s Garden, October 9
A major highlight of the annual Indigenous People’s Day celebration at Bartram’s Garden Plaza is watching performances by two renowned Indigenous dance troupes: Aztec troupe Tonantzin Yaotecas and Native Nations Dance Theater.
The event is hosted by Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, an educational organization based in South Philly working to spread awareness about the Indigenous peoples of Anahuac (North America), especially the Mexicayotl culture that flourished in pre-Colombian Mexico.
The family-friendly outdoor event will also feature drummers, speakers, story time, and vendor artists.
Free and open to everyone, 11 am to 5 pm, 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard
3. Revel in Indigenous arts at Shackamaxon, October 10
Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly hosts their annual celebration at the site of the signing of the Shackamaxon Treaty (also known as Penn Treaty Park). This year, performers include Talon Bazille, rap artist and poet from the Crow Creek Dakota and Cheyenne River Lakota tribes; Andean folk music group Inkarayu; storytelling with Tchin; Richie Olivera Flutes and the same dance troupes performing the day before at Bartram’s Garden.
Organizers are asking people to wear orange shirts in honor of the Indigenous children forcibly sent to residential schools. (See the significance of Orange Shirt Day here.)
Suggested donation $10 (adults); $5 (kids); 11am to 5pm, Penn Treaty Park, 1301 N. Beach Street, Philadelphia. RSVP here or just show up.
4. Acknowledge Lenape land
Philadelphia is part of Lenapehoking — the region that spans from eastern Pennsylvania to the west edge of Connecticut and from the Hudson Valley to the northern tip of Delaware where the Lenape lived for many thousands of years.
Learn the history of how the Delaware tribes were displaced from Philadelphia, pushed off land that is still rightfully theirs according to many treaties including the Treaty of Shackamaxon signed by William Penn and Chief Tamanend.
“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will. No advantage will be taken on either side. But all shall be openness and love. We are the same, as if one man’s body were divided into two parts,” Penn said.
“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run and while the sun, moon and stars endure,” Tamanend said.
… so what happened?
5. Learn the real history
There are 67 National Historic Landmarks in Philadelphia and not a single one acknowledges an Indigenous leader or significant events related to Indigenous people. And the narratives of the places we do acknowledge tend to leave out the darker truths.
The James Logan House (also called the Stenton House) in Germantown, for example, is where final negotiations were made regarding the Walking Purchase — which swindled the Lenape out of nearly a million acres of land, much of it along the Delaware River. Logan, William Penn’s former secretary and land agent and later mayor for whom our Logan Circle is named, forged a deed claiming that that the Munsee Indians (a Lenape sub-tribe that previously occupied the territory) had promised to sell Penn land in the Lehigh Valley — as much as could be walked in a day and a half.
Logan created an inaccurate map that underestimated the land likely to be walked in a day and a half to get the Lenape chief to sign; and he and the Penn brothers arranged to have paths cleared for their “walkers” who are said to have instead run, claiming about 70 miles. Then, anticipating the protests of the Lenapes, Logan arranged a deal with the Iroquois to prevent them from joining the Lenape in disputing the land grab.
… of course that’s just one horrendous example of thousands of pieces of our lesser known history. Check out the virtual iteration of the Penn Museum’s past exhibit, Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. (If you’re an educator, IPD Philly recommends reading Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education.)
6. Read Indigenous literature
Read Lenape authors including those on the list IPD Philly put together: Morgan L. Ridgway, Carla Messinger, Denise Low, Steven Newcomb and D.A. Lockhart. Get your copies at one of the country’s few Indigenous-owned bookstores.
On IPD’s website (under Day 2), you can share your favorite works by Indigenous authors — and see what other Philadelphians are reading.
7. Break down stereotypes at the Penn Museum
The gallery Native American Voices: The People Here and Now seeks to bust stereotypes and highlight how “today’s Native leaders are creating and maintaining religious, political, linguistic, and artistic independence.”
Learn about local tribes; sacred lands across the country and the fight to access, reclaim and/or protect them; the meaning of celebrations like Powwows; and how Native activists are changing government policies to secure their right to self-governance as sovereign nations.
You can visit virtually by watching videos of Indigenous leaders and artists and checking out photos and descriptions of the objects that are part of the exhibit.
8. Support land defense movements
The Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in northeastern New Jersey was formed in solidarity with the Standing Rock Indian Reservation five years ago. Led by Ramapough Lenape Nation, the camp sits on a sacred site still utilized for significant family and seasonal ceremonies — for which they were just successful in securing a conservation agreement with the Rockland County Legislature to protect the site. Follow their continued efforts here.
Learn about the fight against Line 3, a proposed pipeline expansion to bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin, or the one against Pilgrim Pipeline, between Linden, NJ, and Albany NY.