Celebrating kinship: Indigenous Peoples Days kicks off at Burton Ranch | TheUnion.com

Celebrating kinship: Indigenous Peoples Days kicks off at Burton Ranch

The ladies' drum circle, called Otsigeya, or we women in Cherokee, performed from a number of different songs during Thursday's opening ceremony of the Indigenous Peoples Days held at the Burton Ranch outside of Nevada City.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

The soft scent of burning pine emanated from the center of a small drumming circle up on a hill outside Nevada City Thursday evening, marking the beginning of the 18th annual Indigenous Peoples Day. The event has evolved into a weekend full of festivities celebrating the heritage of those that lived here before us, as well as those who have kept that culture alive.

A ladies’ drum circle who call themselves Otsigeya, (O-jee-gay-ya) which means “we women” in Cherokee, sang and kept spirits high with a selection of native songs, and began the evening’s opening ceremony, which also included different speakers.

Paiute, Maidu, Choctaw, and a total of over 20 different indigenous tribes were represented at Thursday’s event.

“We’re all indigenous from someplace,” Michael Ben Ortiz, a local organizer of the event, said.

“I want to welcome you all to Standing Rock,” Ortiz said in reference of the ongoing pipeline protest in South Dakota. “This is our Standing Rock.”

Eighty-year-old Dennis Banks, who had just been at the Standing Rock protest, also spoke to the crowd of his experience there.

“I mention my age because in my lifetime I’ve never seen anything like Standing Rock,” Banks said. He encouraged folks to go to the Indian reservation.

“Go there, at least for the weekend, just to say years from now what you did during Standing Rock, to say, hey we were there, we stood strong with Standing Rock.”

Nevada City Mayor Evans Phelps, who was in attendance for her first Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony, also spoke.

“I’m honored that our community, Nevada City, has finally recognized that history didn’t start at the Gold Rush and that your culture has been here for thousands of years and your culture is strong and beautiful,” Phelps said.

“There were people here long before people who (were) immigrants to this fine country, I’m honored that Nevada City can be a part of this.”

Thursday evening’s ceremony, held at the Burton Ranch, closed out with a round dance led by Lawrence Laughing of the Hotenoshone. Everyone in attendance was asked to participate in the circular three-part dance, which symbolizes a circle of balance where everyone is equal and no one is higher, according to Laughing.

Indigenous Peoples Day continues today with programs at different Nevada, Yuba, and Sacramento county schools, as well as a sunrise ceremony and a “Calling Back the Salmon” ceremony to be held Saturday morning.

For a complete list of events that continue into Monday, visit http://www.indigenouspeoplesdays.org.

To contact Staff Writer Elias Funez, email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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