ST. PETERSBURG — Healing was a common theme, both spiritually and physically, in a gathering by the water in downtown Sunday, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
“This virus is a clarifying agent,” said Sheridan Murphy, whose ancestors are Lakota, in a keynote speech in Vinoy Park. The pandemic has exposed injustices of the world, the Black Lives Matter movement and Native American vulnerabilities, making the time ripe for activism, he said.
Alicia Norris, co-founder of Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality of St. Petersburg, put the event together fairly quickly with a few dozen people gathering in a circle for prayers, songs and speeches.
The event began with a smudging ritual, with smoke from a pot of burned sage moving across the circle, said to cleanse the air and those within it.
Dressed in colorful regalia and roller skates, Cynamon Thomas, 28, of St. Petersburg, whose ancestors hail from Apache, Navaho and Indigenous Mexican communities, said the skates added a modern commentary to the gathering.
“Even though we have a lot of our own personal cultural traditions, we still live in a colonial modern era so of course, I’m going to indulge in things that anybody else indulges in,” Thomas said, “but it also is representative of Indigenous people in the skate community and in sports.”
She later donned what’s known as a “jingle dress,” worn in traditional ceremonies across North America. A sheath with metal cones stitched into rows clanged and clattered when she moved and also as she did a healing dance. The shape and sound of the jingles is said to spread healing, whether dancing for one person or a whole nation.
Healing was a focus of the gathering, as was the devastation COVID-19 is having on Native American communities.
“People don’t realize some of these reservations don’t have running water to this day and I don’t understand why that’s not taken care of,” said Norris. “Tribes had to go to court to get COVID-19 funding.”
Murphy, who also helped found Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, cracked that it was Indigenous Peoples Day. “We don’t even get a week.” But he implored those gathered to take this time to stand up for other human beings, from teaching to joining protests, to writing Congress.
“All we are is the middle of forever,” Murphy said. “We are the culmination of our ancestors and what we do will affect our descendants. We are in the middle of forever, man.”