In Berkeley, Indigenous Peoples’ Day Is a Decades-Old Tradition

A dozen states and more than a hundred cities will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, a holiday intended both to honor Native cultures and to offer something of a rebuke to Columbus Day. In 2021, President Biden became the first U.S. president to formally recognize the holiday, a signal of its growing acceptance.

In California, the city of Berkeley has been recognizing the holiday for more than 30 years.

The Bay Area city ousted Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992 as an acknowledgment that Native “societies and philosophies flourished long before Columbus arrived,” Mayor Loni Hancock was quoted as saying in a New York Times article at the time.

“Oct. 12 is no longer Columbus Day in this city known for political correctness,” the article read.

The celebration was held that year on Saturday, Oct. 10, and included a sunrise ceremony at the waterfront, cultural events, speeches, and Indigenous foods and crafts. A flier called for the event to “begin a profound annual tradition in Berkeley, refocusing social consciousness toward the nurturing leadership of Indigenous tradition in harmony with the natural environment.”

John Curl, a longtime Berkeley resident and one of the holiday’s founders, told me that it started as a protest against a planned national celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492.

The celebration was to conclude with replicas of Columbus’s ships sailing into the Golden Gate in October 1992, Curl said. He and other activists wanted to come up with an alternative, he said, that didn’t celebrate the mistreatment and eradication of Native peoples.

“This was the termination of a 500-year cycle, and we were starting another 500-year cycle, and we wanted to do this one differently,” Curl told me. “Berkeley had a big head start in having a progressive community.”

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed during a 1977 United Nations conference on preventing discrimination of Native peoples. South Dakota is believed to have been the first state to recognize such a day, as Native American Day, in 1990.

It can be confusing to untangle how Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day are recognized in the United States, given that they fall on the same day.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday, so post offices and most banks and government offices will be closed on Monday. But it is no longer a California holiday, so state workers don’t have the day off.

This month, U.S. House and Senate lawmakers reintroduced a bill that would replace Columbus Day and establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a federal holiday on the second Monday of October. Tribes including the Cherokee and Navajo Nations have expressed support, my colleagues recently reported.

Gino Barichello, a Muscogee Indian whose mother was one of the original founders of Berkeley’s holiday, said that the city’s annual celebration was intended to introduce young people to Native traditions and claim space for Native people on colonial lands. Barichello is the coordinator of this year’s Indigenous People’s Day celebration, which includes a powwow and market scheduled for Saturday.

“When I stop and think about all those years ago, it seemed like the dream” that Indigenous People’s Day would spread beyond Berkeley, Barichello told me. “Now it’s wonderful to look out across the state, across our country and see it just kind of flourishing.”

Today’s tip comes from Lou Weaver, who recommends the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway:

“There is a tram that travels up the side of one of the highest mountains in Southern California. The top of the tram has lookouts, hiking trails and restaurants. The entire valley can be seen from there clear to the Salton Sea.”

We’re looking to feature more of your favorite places to visit in California. Send us suggestions for day trips, scenic outlooks, hikes and more. Email your suggestions to

The MacArthur Foundation has named its 2023 fellowship class, and in an extraordinary boon for the West Coast’s creative community, four of this year’s 20 awardees are based in California.

The MacArthur fellowship, often referred to as the “genius” grant, awards an $800,000 stipend to a select group of anonymously nominated artists, writers, entrepreneurs and trailblazers across myriad fields. The grant is awarded to encourage “people of outstanding talent” to continue on their creative and intellectual pursuits, with no strings attached, the foundation says on its site.

This year’s recipients, announced on Wednesday, include a U.S. poet laureate, a composer and a lawyer whose organization is devoted to preserving American democracy. Among these movers and shakers, a striking 20 percent are based in California, each representing the state’s vital artistic and intellectual culture.

Patrick Makuakane, a hula choreographer, and Diana Greene Foster, a reproductive health researcher, anchor the San Francisco contingent, while E. Tendayi Achiume, a legal scholar, and A. Park Williams, a climate scientist, represent Los Angeles.

The full list of fellows is available here.

Leave a Comment