BEMIDJI -- On Indigenous Peoples Day a socially distant crowd gathered at Paul Bunyan Park to celebrate Ojibwe culture and heritage, inspire youth, and most importantly, remind anyone watching that Native Americans are still here.
"We are still here,” signs and shirts proclaimed throughout the youth-centered event reminding young Native Americans to look back at their history, culture and language in order to move forward and create change.
During the afternoon, activists spoke about a variety of issues -- Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project and the erasure of culture and history -- local political candidates campaigned, drum songs were played and youth dancers performed.
The main point of many of the speakers boiled down to empowering youth to fight for change and embrace their culture, heritage and language so it is not forgotten.
The gathering took place outside on a crisp fall afternoon, with all those in attendance asked to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. A couple hundred people gathered around, spaced out amongst the trees behind Paul and Babe, smiling, laughing, dancing and listening. The afternoon boasted multiple drum circles, dancers, performances, speakers, hand drummers, a free photographer, door prizes and a comedy set.
The celebration was hosted by 7th Generation, an Ojibwe youth organization based on the Seventh Generation principle, which is part of a philosophy passed down through Native American people embracing the idea that decisions made today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
After an invocation, organizer Will Robinson of 7th Generation kicked off the event.
Several area political candidates made appearances.
City Council Ward 1 candidate Audrey Thayer spoke about her desire to spark change if elected. She addressed the need for affordable housing, gesturing at bedding in the bushes behind her.
If elected, she would be the first Native American woman in that position.
Dan Jourdain, Bemidji City Council at-large candidate, spoke about the need to work together for the benefit of all races.
Mayoral candidate Michael Meehlhause also spoke, telling the crowd about how Indigenous Peoples Day/Treaty Day came to be recognized in Bemidji via mayoral proclamation.
Indigenous Peoples Day has been a Minnesota holiday since 2016 when Gov. Mark Dayton established it.
While the political candidates spoke more about working together for change, the activists shifted more toward issues needing to be addressed.
A group of water protectors addressed the crowd, speaking out against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project.
Activist Renee Gurneau then spoke about the seventh fire prophecy, and how it means this generation is the one that will create change. She spoke about how the journey toward a better future must begin with Native Americans.
“White people can join us if they want to, or they can get left behind,” Gurneau said.
Gurneau requested an honor song be played on behalf of the youth and expressed her optimism about the future.
“I have a lot of faith in our young people,” she said. “Our world is safe in their hands.”