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Native people and allies gather for a sunrise ceremony morning on Indigenous Peoples Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Urban community comes together for Indigenous Peoples Day
‘I believe that all Native people are still fighting’
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Indianz.Com

LINCOLN, Nebraska – As the sun slowly burned away the night sky Monday morning, a group of Native people and others burned sage, sang songs and shared their stories outside an indigenous culture center here.

The sunrise ceremony featured songs by Salvador Hernandez, a Mexica singer and dancer, songs from a Native singer and drummer and speeches by the more than dozen people who took part in the event, which was held on Nebraska’s first statewide Indigenous People’s Day.

Hernandez described the ritual he was about to perform, saying he would play his drum while facing each of the four directions and blowing a conch in between directional turns.

“When I use the shell, I’m calling the ancestors to be with us … so it can be a good day,” he said.

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Salvador Hernandez, an Aztec singer and dancer, prepares his Mexica drum for a sunrise ceremony celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Following his song, he joined an Omaha singer for a prayer song on a Native drum.

Renee Sans Souci, an Omaha poet and activist who organized the ceremony, then passed around a red handkerchief and invited everyone to speak.

Jared Norwood, a Native Hawaiian, thanked Sans Souci for inviting him to the event.

“I believe that all Native people are still fighting, and unfortunately we’ll be fighting for a long time for our rights, for our freedoms, for our sovereignty,” he said. “I know that the Hawaiian people are still fighting alongside our brothers and sisters here for the same things.”

Mitchell Harry, an Omaha singer, talked about attending a sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz Island that made him realize that such events were important. Before that, he always thought events celebrating Indigenous People’s Day were a distraction from social justice efforts that seemed to have a greater impact.

“This is really important I think that we do get together like this and we come together and we share our stories of who we are,” he said. “We pray together and we stand together because to us living these traditional ways it’s Indigenous People’s Day every day.”

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Mitchell Harry, an Omaha man, and Salvador Hernandez, an Aztec singer and dancer, sing a prayer song at a sunrise ceremony celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Felecia Welke, a Ponca woman, talked about having been adopted at a young age and not learning about her Native ancestry until her mid-20s.

“I really dived into my culture once I knew who I was,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to be in this circle this morning.”

Jeff Mohr, a social work professor from Nebraska Wesleyan University, talked about the importance of celebrating indigenous history and culture instead of Christopher Columbus.

“Columbus was many things but mainly he was lost,” he said.

Sans Souci talked about the importance of living in balance and seeking guidance from the creator each day. And she talked about her own journey to becoming an Omaha woman warrior, a role not typically associated with women from her tribe.

She urged those gathered to seek spiritual guidance for their own lifes.

“Have that faith that your answers will come,” she said.

She said she was glad to be able to bring the Mexica drum into the center of the circle Monday morning.

“This has always been like a dream to see this drum in the center with copal, the medicine, alongside our Omaha, Lakota, Ojibwe (ways) and it’s all one,” she said. “I’m really thankful to see that and to have our relatives here.”

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Renee Sans Souci, an Omaha poet and activist, speaks at a sunrise ceremony celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Hernandez talked about his own struggles growing up in Nebraska but living most of his adult life in California, where he learned about his Mexica cultural practices.

“It’s hard because this right here, usually there’s four people doing it,” he said, motioning toward his drum, conch shell and shaker. “I’ve had to come and do it myself. It’s been hard because I miss my family.”

“I know that I have all the people here with me, and I know that when I’m here they’re with me.”

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A Mexica drum sits in the center of a circle during a sunrise ceremony celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

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Salvador Hernandez plays a Mexica drum in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 12, 2020. Photo by Kevin Abourezk