San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Safari Park Hosts Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebration With Kumeyaay Nation Tribe

NBC Universal, Inc.

Although Monday was the San Diego’s Zoo Safari Park’s first year celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it was California’s third year observing it — and the idea now has federal support after Pres. Joe Biden signed a proclamation last week making Oct. 11 both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day.

You can learn about it in a book, but seeing the day observed by those who live it makes a bigger impact—and thanks to San Pasqual Kumeyaay board president Ulysses Belardes and other tribal leaders, that’s what visitors of San Diego’s Zoo Safari Park experienced Monday for the first time in the park’s history.

“We’re actually here in flesh and bones and still do our language and songs,
Belardes said. “We’re not just in history books any longer.”

The Kumeyaay Nation Tribe celebrated its culture and legacy with the community through crafts, song, dance and art.

“This day is very important because it remembers part of the past of who we are and the people who were once here,” Belardes said. “Communities realize that we’re still here, we haven’t really disappeared.”

For park member Jane Lewis, this was a can’t-miss event.

“I got an email, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be there!’ ” Lewis said. “I think it's really important to connect with indigenous people because they were here first. I grew up loving indigenous people, the stories, the art …”

Others like Ruth and Dirk Dekoekkoek, who were on a trip to the zoo with their grandson. were pleasantly surprised by the celebration.

“We saw a sign saying, ‘Welcome, it’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day!’ so it’s a great surprise,” Ruth said.

“A heightened sense of awareness for all of us would be a good thing,” Dirk said.

Belardes told NBC 7 that keeping the voices of his ancestors alive will help guarantee recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day for years to come.

“We’re all wrapped differently, but truly we’re all indigenous people," Belardes said. "We all come from a tradition somewhere, so don’t forget who you are and where you come from.”

In addition to commemorating Native American Day in late September, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed yearly proclamations marking Indigenous Peoples' Day the second Monday in October.

Thirteen states and more than 100 cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, choosing to recognize the native populations that were violently displaced after Christopher Columbus and other European explorers reached the continent.

Berkeley, California, was the first city to adopt Indigenous Peoples' Day, in 1992.

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