Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration Set for Oct. 2 with Music, Dancing, Cultural History

Bedford’s first observance of Indigenous Peoples Day is being promoted by organizers as a “celebration.”

The event is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. on the quadrangle at Middlesex Community College, 591 Springs Road.

Bedford’s event plans to honor “the history, culture, and living presence of Indigenous Taino peoples of the Caribbean,” featuring remarks by Claudia Fox Tree, whose lineage is Taino/Arawak. Fox Tree, who lived in Bedford for many years, is a veteran Indigenous rights activist and a middle-school special-education teacher for more than 30 years.

BOMBAntillana, a Boston-based musical ensemble, will lead a participatory performance of Bomba, a traditional music and dance form that was developed over 400 years ago in what is now Puerto Rico by enslaved and free Taino and African Bantu peoples.

Town meeting in May approved replacing the local designation of the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The School Committee took similar action when planning its 2021-22 calendar

(The commemoration is taking place several days early, as performers are booked for larger regional events on the actual day.)

Last weekend, three drivers of the Indigenous Peoples Day Bedford group scoped out the college green, planning the logistics for the community happening.

Anne Caron said the event is “a celebration of Indigenous People, as opposed to seeing the horrible experiences they went through. They are still here, and we are going to celebrate with them.” Erin McCormick labeled it as “almost a reframing of American history.”

When the town meeting article passed, “we said now we are going to concentrate on education,” Caron said. Heather Leavell added, “That’s the point of a celebration – we’re keeping that momentum going.”

They agreed that it would be especially gratifying if Indigenous people come to the celebration, in which “we’re trying to see through their eyes.”

The committee worked with Indigenous advisers throughout the campaign, and that relationship continues, McCormick noted. Members consulted Faries Gray, sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe, and Mahtowin Munro, leader of IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org. The advisers “emphasize that it is not just patting yourself on the back,” McCormick said. The next steps are important and they take time.

“It’s very important because this holiday affects them,” she continued. “They asked for consultation so we would understand what the issues are and how to be surrogates for their perspectives.” Caron added, “We want to elevate their voices.”

Fox Tree has also been active as an adviser to the cause, which she championed during her many years in Bedford. On Saturday afternoon, “I’m planning on a few remarks focusing on the importance of continuing to learn and increase our knowledge within a society where so much is not taught through formal education,” she said in an email.

“There are so many opportunities,” Leavell declared. “Changing the day was really a first step. Now it is a platform for continuing programs.”

The organizers are also excited about bringing BOMBAtillana to Bedford. The music and dance form is considered a powerful means of creative expression, healing, and resistance.

“I have never experienced bomba or understood the presence of Indigenous people in the Caribbean,” Leavell said. Last fall, she related, she saw an impromptu performance at the site of the former Columbus monument in Boston’s North End. Those musicians’ ancestors were “directly impacted” by Columbus, so it seemed especially appropriate, she said. “And what better way than to celebrate out first Indigenous Peoples Day of Bedford?”

The performers will teach the history of the dance form. “It’s like a resistance dance, cultural expression, and a form of healing,” Leavell said, adding that there will be opportunities for audience participation.

The committee is looking ahead to enhancing school curricula, and said they have the support of at least two principals so far. The organizers lauded the research of Town Historian Sharon McDonald for “what she has uncovered and shared. She has amazing stories to tell.”

McCormick said the committee was approached on Bedford Day by someone associated with Bedford Youth Lacrosse, a sport originated by Native Americans. “He had worked with Indigenous lacrosse players, learned from them, and found out about the Native roots of the game and the meaning that it has beyond competition.”

Visitors on Saturday are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. In case of inclement weather, the program will move to a tent on site or in the nearby campus center (masks will be required inside).

The Oct. 2 event is also sponsored by Bedford Embraces Diversity and the Parents Diversity Council. For more information, contact IPDBedfordMA@gmail.com. Organizers are accepting donations through https://www.gofundme.com/f/BedfordIndigenousPeoplesDayEvent.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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