"It's been a long, long fight": Native Americans mark Philadelphia's first Indigenous Peoples' Day

The celebration took place at Penn Treaty Park, which is on land that is the ancestral home of the Lenape Tribe.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As Pauline Songbird sat underneath a tent watching dozens of people participate in a Native American dance, her high, brown cheekbones showed off a hint of a proud smile. The day had finally come that she thought she'd never see.

"Its' been a long, long fight to try to become recognized," said Vaughda Hilton, who is Songbird's daughter and founder of the Native Nation's Dance Theater.

"My mother is Seminole and Creek," said Hilton. "She's an elder of the community."

A number of Native American Tribes and Nations were represented at the 5th Annual Indigenous Peoples' Day Philly celebration. Though the event is in its fifth year, this is the first year that Philadelphia has officially recognized Indigenous People's Day. A flag-raising on Thursday at City Hall made it official.

"To finally be recognized, we recognize ourselves, but finally for the city to recognize our hard work," said El Ali, who says he has Eastern Cherokee, Chiricahua, Apache and African American heritage.

The celebration took place throughout the day Monday at Penn Treaty Park, which is on land that is the ancestral home of the Lenape Tribe.

"This is a ceremonial land," said Ben Miller who says he has Lenape heritage and is with the Delaware Tribe of Indians. "We'd get together as bands and figure out what the problem is," he said of the park, which the Lenape refer to as Shackamaxon.

It's one of many pieces of land that Native Americans hope to once again lay claim to.

"We want some kind of a land back so we can at least bury our ancestors," said Barton Standlingelk Cartwright who says he is a member of the Delaware Nation Anadarko.

"They need to know who we are. This is our homeland," said Teresa Johnson, who says she is Lenape and came to the ceremony from Ontario, Canada.

Like many other Native Americans at the event, she believes that Indigenous Peoples' Day should be celebrated instead of Columbus Day.

"I feel that a man who committed so much atrocities and pain against people does not deserve a statue," said Miller.

"I think it's near time (for Indigenous People's Day)," said Barbara Morehead, who says she has Italian heritage and is founder and vice president of Friends of Penn Treaty Park. "This is their land... and we took it."

The Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration featured songs, speeches dance performances, vendors and storytelling. Organizers say it's all in an effort to share their culture with the wider community.

"Its' been a long, long fight to try to become recognized here in the city," said Hilton, "...so that everyone can see us and celebrate in our culture.
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