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Louisiana tribes honored Monday during observance of Indigenous People's Day

1 year 1 month 3 weeks ago Tuesday, October 12 2021 Oct 12, 2021 October 12, 2021 4:48 AM October 12, 2021 in News
Source: KATC

National Indigenous Peoples' Day was observed Monday in honor of the individuals who already lived in North America when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.

KATC notes that Louisiana is home to four federally recognized indigenous tribes and several other tribes that have roots in the area. 

In shedding light on the cultural history of Louisiana tribes, the Lafayette-based news outlet quotes the Chief of the Bear Clan in the Avogel Tribe of Louisiana, John "Sitting-Bear" Mayeux.

Mayeux says, "According to our stories and legends, we only claim the last 5,000 years, but really we got here during the Paleon Indian years which is 12-15,000 years."

He adds, "'Avo' means flint, 'gel' means people. We were called the flint people. Avoyelles Parish was named after our tribe. I don't know why, but the French people did not like the 'g', so they changed to 'y'. Avogel became Avoyel."

Mayeux explains that his tribe is known for trading and maintaining peace.

He says, "In Louisiana there is no stone, so to make arrowheads, lancers and knives, we would go up north to get flint, then when we would go trade with people. They would say, 'The flint people are coming.'"

The Chief, who prefers to be called by his tribal name, Sitting Bear, recalls a time when deep-seated prejudice that often led to violence prevented him from openly celebrating his heritage. 

He tells KATC, "In fact, when I was young we were told not to discuss it because it would invite a bullet in the back. My grandfather was an orphan by age 9 because three drunk white men decided to go Indian hunting, meaning they would kill the first Indian they came across. It just so happened to be his parents."

While acknowledging that some progress has been made and that the institution of Indigenous Peoples' Day is a step in the right direction, he points out that after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, 90 percent of the native population died due to violence and diseases.

"We helped out the first settlers that came down here, we tried to help them survive, because they didn't know how to survive," he says. "The biggest problem was the mosquitoes, because the diseases they carry. We told them the best thing to use is bear grease, but they didn't like our idea." 

Columbus Day is still a federal holiday that is observed annually on the second Monday in October. 

However, this year marks the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day.

On Friday, President Biden issued a proclamation establishing October 11, 2021 as a day to honor Native Americans and their contributions to American society throughout history, even as they faced assimilation, discrimination and genocide spanning generations.

The idea for the day was initially suggested by Indigenous peoples at a United Nations conference in 1977 held to address discrimination against Natives, according to NPR .

Years later, in 1989, South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day.  

For more information about the rich heritage and cultural history of tribes in South Louisiana, interested individuals can get in touch with Sitting Bear at Vermilionville Tuesdays-Fridays.

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