Scenes from West Philly’s Indigenous Peoples Day celebration [photos]

    Andrew Lyn, 6, bounded around a fire, dressed in orange tiger stripes with white, green and blue fringe that flew in every direction in West Philadelphia’s Muhammad Park on Saturday.  The Silver Cloud drummers pounded a steady rhythm as Lyn and about 15 other intertribal dancers performed the Grass Dance. They flailed, bounced, and then dropped down to a squat, a traditional way of controlling grass growth. Their performance was part of the third annual Indigenous Peoples Day.   

    The powwow showcased drumming, singing, and dancing of native North American peoples. The event included participants many Nations, from Cherokee to Seminole and others.

    Francisco Javier “Brujo” Hernandez Carbajal is the founder of Ollin Yoliztil Calmecac, a non-profit started to continue the history and the culture of native Mexicans. But Carbajal says now the organization has grown to celebrate all native cultures.  He wore a native Aztec costume, adorned with feathers from roosters, pheasants and macaws.

    His performance team of drummers and dancers includes four teenagers from Camden. They had been practicing for a few months, since dancer Kelly Medina wanted to create a performance for her sweet fifteen, and now the team plans to continue performing.

    “I want them to be comfortable with who they are,” said Carbajal. He added that out of the four performers, three are native Mexicans and the other member, John Ramos, is a friend of Medina’s who was interested in learning. “I include everyone,” said Carbajal.

    190th Legislative District State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown sat behind a booth off to the side from the powwow circle offering fresh fruit and water to members of the community and spoke of Pennsylvania’s native history. She’s a supporter of Indigenous Peoples Day and introduced legislation to have the day recognized throughout the Commonwealth.

    “The goal of this event is to embrace and explore,” said Brown, whose heritage includes some Native American from her great, great grandfather and wore traditional garments.  She said that it’s important for the people who live in the community to understand the history of the area, citing the Mill Creek area and Delaware Avenue as places in the city with a lot of native influence.

    She says she wants to share the history that doesn’t have much of a place in the textbooks. “No one ever gets the true history before Columbus,” said Brown.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.