About 200 people gathered Monday in Everson Community Plaza to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

The event was put on by Resilient Indigenous Action Collective, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, Women of Italian Heritage in CNY, Syracuse Peace Council and Black Artist Collective. Urban Video Project and Light Work co-sponsored a film series at the event.

For the second year in a row, United States President Joe Biden proclaimed the second Monday in October — also celebrated by some as Columbus Day — as Indigenous Peoples Day.

“We are here,” said Black Artist Collective member Alice “Queen” Olom, “and we’re taking it back by celebrating us.”

Several speakers used the event to call for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue. The statue’s removal was blocked by Onondaga Supreme Court Judge Gerald Neri, but city officials have appealed the ruling.

Hillary-Anne Coppola, of WISH CNY, spoke against both Neri and the Columbus Monument Corporation, the group that sued the city to keep the monument.

“Your monument does not take precedence over living people,” Coppola said.

Other speakers used their speeches to speak in solidarity with traditionalist members of the Cayuga Nation and against Clint Halftown.

Halftown is the federally recognized leader of the Cayuga Nation Council and his leadership has been disputed by the the traditional Cayuga Nation Chiefs and Clan Mothers.

Halftown has taken to demolishing homes of traditionalist opponents.

Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons also told attendees of the origin of the use of the word indigenous.

Lyons and other indigenous peoples from North and South America went to the 1977 Geneva United Nations conference. They contemplated what to call themselves, he said.

They did not want to be called Indian as that had been a name assigned by Columbus because he believed he’d landed in India, according to Lyons.

Lyons said they did not want to be called Americans either because the name was derived from Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

The group decided on indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere, Lyons said.

“I just wanted you to know,” Lyons said, “we named ourselves.”

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.