"We want you to know that we are still here. Through all the turmoil that we have been through, atrocities that we have been through, we are proud of who we are, and we are just happy people," said Native American actor Wayahsti Richardson.
NEW YORK, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- Native Americans should be respected and their issues should draw more attention, said Wayahsti Richardson, a well-known actor and performer of Native American music and dances.
Wayahsti and his family members recently joined annual celebrations on the occasion of Indigenous People's Day on Randalls Island of New York City.
LACK OF RESPECT UNTIL NOW
While U.S. President Joe Biden recently issued a proclamation celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day falling on Oct. 11, decades-old Columbus Day Parade was staged in New York City.
"We are celebrating that we have survived (Christopher) Columbus," Wayahsti told Xinhua at the conclusion of the two-day event. "Columbus came here and destroyed a lot ... We are just trying to teach people a true history."
"The second Monday of October is celebrated as Columbus Day by many people, but this holiday is rooted in inaccuracy and celebrates a tragic history of genocide and violence against the Indigenous Peoples of this country and all of the Americas," said the Indigenous Peoples Day NYC Committee in a petition requesting that New York City officially declare the day to be Indigenous Peoples Day.
The festival, which was staged on the grounds by Icahn Stadium, features performances, music, vending of handicrafts and food, evening concert, as well as sunrise ceremony and water ceremony.
Data from the book "Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination" showed that the Native American population size in North America decreased by 95 percent during the period from 1492, when Columbus came to America, to the establishment of the United States in 1776.
Native Americans have been tormented as their land, families, culture and identity were taken away by the newcomers, Wayahsti said.
The very giving and helpful American Indians were seen as an easy target to take over and conquer, according to Wayahsti, adding that not one treaty between the U.S. federal government and American Indians has been upheld.
He added that Native Americans are not well accepted or respected here, and he does not wear traditional clothes or gears while walking in the street to avoid trouble.
"I would be afraid someone would say something derogatory or just something that would be insulting. And instead of dealing with that, I just will not wear it," said Wayahsti.
The issue came from what has been taught in schools and the portrayal by Hollywood or on television, he added.
"We are not human beings anymore. We have become characters. Football teams, baseball teams ... they use our images on their helmets for entertainment. There should just be more respect for other people's culture," said Wayahsti.
Over 180,000 or 2 percent of people in New York City identify themselves as "American Indian or Alaska Native" alone or in a combination of races, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
It's unfortunate that there is no central Native American community, said Wayahsti.
Once people lose their culture and traditional ways of life, they no longer exist and become colonized, said Wayahsti, who now is a stay-at-home father passing traditions and culture to his own children.
RESERVATION SYSTEM HURTS
The Indigenous Peoples' Day allows Native Americans to show their existence and speak up their concerns on water, pipelines, missing and murdered women and other issues, according to Wayahsti.
"Native people have the highest percentage of missing and murdered indigenous women in the whole world. Things happen on reservations and no one cares about it," said Wayahsti.
Now, even becoming a big issue is the whole deal with the residential or missionary schools, where thousands of children's bodies were found, according to Wayahsti.
"These were my uncles, my grandpas, my aunts, my great grandpas. These are people who hold on to knowledge that will never be brought back again. Everything that they knew of our languages, and culture, was all wiped out with them," said Wayahsti, who grew up in North Carolina and moved up to New Jersey for some years.
For those who went to a residential school or missionary school, and they are still alive, they are survivors, but not alumni members or graduates of that school, according to Wayahsti.
Wayahsti said both his father and he are not able to speak their indigenous language fluently while his grandfather would not say if he was able to do that because of what he went through while growing up.
Some kids escaped from the missionary schools, walked through the woods in the winter time and a lot of them died that way, Wayahsti added.
Clifford Trafzer, a history professor at University of California, Riverside, disclosed that all of the former boarding schools operated by the federal government had cemeteries, and students were treated like slaves, forced into hard labor and exposed to dangerous working conditions. Some died in work-related accidents.
To assimilate Native American children into White American society, U.S. Congress passed the Civilization Fund Act in 1819, which provided religious organizations with the resources to run schools for Native American children.
In June, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a probe into the burial of students at Indian boarding schools after human remains were discovered in Indian residential schools across Canada.
"The United States is so good at covering up things that they have done in the past and just pushing it on the table like it did not happen," said Wayahsti.
"Today we are just sharing our stories with each other, (with) organizations, sharing what they (Native Americans) are doing to fight against these things," Wayahsti said.
"We want you to know that we are still here. Through all the turmoil that we have been through, atrocities that we have been through, we are proud of who we are, and we are just happy people," said Wayahsti.