It's time to do this to honor the Susquehannocks and all indigenous peoples: Letter

Matthew Jackson
The 180-acre Native Lands Park along the Susquehanna River is the site of the last known settlement of the Susquehannock Indian tribe before they were wiped out by disease and massacred by a vigilante group from Harrisburg.  Sunday, April 15, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Kudos to the Susquehanna National Heritage Area York for acquiring rare 17th century artifacts made by our region's native and first-known inhabitants, the Susquehannocks.

As renowned artist and curator Rob Evans and intrepid visionary Mark Platts, president and CEO of the Susquehanna National Heritage Area, write:

The first true artists of the Susquehanna River Valley were the Susquehannocks and other native peoples who inhabited the region long before European explorers arrived. Their culture embraced and lived in harmony with the river ecosystem and its bounteous natural resources. Their artistry was entwined with every aspect of their lives — creating objects that were both utilitarian and of simple artistic beauty, often depicting native flora and fauna or made from materials derived from the river valley.

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As York County continues to grow to 500,000 residents, our people are increasingly diverse, with growing appetites for knowing all stages and stories of all peoples who lived, raised families, hunted, fished, swam, boated, farmed, fought and died here.

Resolutions around area: In that vein of honoring and affirming the contributions of all peoples, last year York City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring the second Monday in October and the week in which it falls as Indigenous Peoples' Day and Indigenous Peoples' Week. Last month, the York City Human Relations Commission unanimously approved the same resolution.

Of Cree Nation ancestry, York County lecturer, musician, artist and author Frank LittleBear has been vital to these efforts. Thank you all council members and commissioners for voting yes.

To our east, the City of Lancaster has declared this day and week — starting with the second Monday in October — as Indigenous Peoples' Week. To our south, Maryland's Howard County has declared the second Monday in October of each year as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In this Aug. 27, 2017 photo, the Christopher Columbus statue stands at Manhattan's Columbus Circle in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Our beloved York and Lancaster counties (and others) can join in on passing official resolutions giving dignity, honor and memory to our too often forgotten native sisters and brothers.

Honorable county commissioners and municipal leaders, will you please pass a similar resolution this fall declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day and that week as Indigenous Peoples' Week for this and future Octobers?

Speak volumes: These are positive, affirming, apolitical Resolutions that show our counties are home to and open to diverse cultures and is a welcoming place to live, work, and play. They show that we are open to other peoples and open for business because we embrace diversity, inclusion and opportunity.

Resolutions like these cost nothing to approve, yet speak volumes in affirming our common humanity and in encouraging our community to honor and learn from the trials, challenges and achievements of indigenous peoples who breathed and roamed the Susquehanna Valley long before us.

Resolutions like these also have the effect of providing good teachable or reflective moments for our children, youth and families to familiarize all of us on the many contributions of Indigenous peoples, especially the Susquehannocks, to our regional culture and communities over centuries. Our shared great waterway that is the boundary between York, Lancaster and other counties is the Susquehanna River, named after the Susquehannocks.

Passing such a resolution this fall can help empower diversity and inclusion efforts to launch empowering calendar-related, multi-day, family-friendly events, festivals, pow wows and the like in 2022. It's also perfectly consistent with community and economic development initiatives, like the York County Economic Alliance's compelling, new Welcoming Workplace initiative. A panoply of programs — internal and introspective for our heads, boards and teams and external in services and deliverables — can help brand our area as open, gracious, innovative and hospitable.

Resolutions like this also can create a groundswell of awareness and energy that leads to formal, bi-partisan statewide recognition. Over the years, towns and schools throughout the U.S., based on primary sources, have begun the hard work of right-sizing our history — righteous reckonings with the past that generates deeper truth and reconciliation for the present and future.

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As a result, more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia now recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. Those states include Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania does not.

Note that passing such a resolution at the county or municipal level in no way replaces or erases Columbus Day, which has been observed as a federal holiday since 1934. With awareness of and appreciation for all indigenous and those who came here, we can honor and embrace all peoples and all our neighbors in the lower Susquehanna Valley and beyond with justice, dignity and opportunity for all.

Educator-artist, seven-year York County resident and Anishinaabe Raine Dawn, originally of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe from North Dakota, says it best:

A York County declaration of Indigenous Peoples' Day and Week in October is important to me. Being a Native American and living in Maryland, I never had a connection to my ancestors, my teaching, my heritage and essentially I didn't know myself very well as a result. In order to create a world we wish to live in, we need to start allowing people to know who they are. The greatest thing we can do here on earth is know ourselves, and once we do that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

Our heritage is deeply rooted in our DNA, and to know it would do us a great service as people of earth. We can learn so much from our ancestors, and even more from each other.

Another perspective on why it's meaningful to me is that it brings light to those who were cast aside and hidden. My life is what it is today because of what my ancestors went through and the actions they took. So they deserve our reverence and gratitude. they deserve to be observed and honored. Just as others expect the forefathers of our country to be observed and honored.

Now, therefore, be it resolved that we encourage our county commissioners and municipal leaders to unanimously pass resolutions declaring the second Monday in October and the week thereof as Indigenous Peoples' Day and Indigenous Peoples' Week for 2022 and beyond.