8 Ways to Celebrate the Culture of Indigenous Peoples in NYC
For Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Native American Heritage Month, as well as year-round.
As we honor this year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 10—which was officially recognized as a national holiday in 2021—and the upcoming National American Indian Heritage Month in November, we are reminded of the beauty, strength, and historical significance of the First Peoples across the country.
And within the five boroughs, it’s also important to know that we New Yorkers currently reside on what was once the land of the Lenape peoples called Lenapehoking or Manhatta (which means “hilly island”). Centuries later and after undergoing involuntary displacement, the Lenape Diaspora is mostly found in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario, but their impact in the Northeast is still very much felt and seen.
From annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day events like an all-day, performance-packed gathering on Randall’s Island or a poetry reading (plus nature hike) on Staten Island, to year-round programming hosted by world-renowned institutions, there are plenty of ways to expand our knowledge and pay respects to the region’s original inhabitants. Here are some ways to celebrate the legacy and culture of Indigenous peoples in NYC this year.
Saturday, October 8, 2 pm–4 pm
This weekend, take to the great outdoors at the Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Staten Island’s Charleston neighborhood for a leisurely hike plus poetry reading. Held at the nature preserve’s Interpretive Center, the staff of Staten Island OutLOUD (a community organization that hosts literary readings and performances) will recite from a collection of works by Native American poets followed by a mile-long stroll around the 265-acre grounds—which are well known as historical Lenape lands.
Cost: Registry is free
Sunday, October 9, 2 pm
On the border of Midtown and the Upper West Side, the well-known roundabout and park, Columbus Circle, is the annual home of The NYC Indigenous Day of Remembrance. In opposition of the Christopher Columbus monument, which sits at the center of the property, the event gathers for its 15th edition this Sunday to honor Indigenous ancestry and seek justice for First Peoples across the nation. Programming includes the singing of ancestral songs, drum performances, and speeches from community members. Contributions for the on-site altar like fruit, seeds, shells, and herbs are encouraged.
Cost: Attendance is free
Sunday, October 9–Monday, October 10
Claiming the title as one of the largest Indigenous celebrations in the Northeast, The 8th Annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration in NYC boasts two days of culture, music, dance, food, and traditional ceremony on Randall’s Island. Co-founded by Sutton King, the president of the Urban Indigenous Collective and co-founder of ShockTalk, and Cliff Matias, the cultural director of Redhawk Native American Arts Council, guests can attend everything from poetry readings and activism speeches to a live concert and water ceremony. Among the on-site vendors, there is a range of food stands and locally made goods like clothing from Ojala Threads.
Cost: Free for entry
Since 1994, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has been a hub for the history and deeper understanding of Native peoples from the earliest times to present day. Located in the more-than-a-century-old Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, the museum features year-round exhibits, dance and music performances, children’s programs, film screenings, and more. Upcoming events include the Onsite Educators’ Open House, which is a curated tour of the galleries led by the museum’s education team on Monday, October 10, from 11 am–4 pm, as well as the 2022 Native Cinema Showcase, which is held from November 18–25 and spotlights Indigenous filmmakers.
Cost: Entry and events are free
As a community-based organization created to support Native Americans and promote intercultural understanding, the American Indian Community House has been a safe space and informational beacon in New York City’s Chinatown for more than 50 years. In addition to free online programming like the Elders Storytelling Series and Womxn’s Gathering, the nonprofit is composed of members from more than 70 tribes that participate and uplift local events including a sunrise prayer in Central Park on Monday, October 10 at 7 am. Keep tabs on the website’s events page for more upcoming programs.
At the core of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, the mission is to support Native American artists and art educators in the NYC metro area through song, dance, theater, and more. Founded in 1994, the organization’s upcoming happenings also weigh in on contemporary issues such as climate change, water rights, and land preservation with in-person courses including the green-living and diversity programs. Additionally, the Redhawk Native American Arts Council is behind a few of the largest Indigenous heritage celebrations including the upcoming Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration on Randall’s Island and the Bear Mountain Native American Celebration, which is held each year during August at Harriman State Park.
Established in 1998, The National Association of Native American Music celebrates the rich musical heritage of the nation’s First Peoples through a range of virtual programs, fundraisers, and city-wide initiatives. On the organization’s schedule, visitors will find mental health awareness benefits, holiday toy drives, and instrument donations for veterans with PTSD. That being said, the star of the show is the annual NAMA Awards Show (held this year in New York’s Niagara Falls), which consists of a vibrant evening gala on the evening of November 19 where Native American artists, record labels, and producers are spotlighted and praised for their work.
Cost: NAMA Awards Show tickets from $77
For owner Yolanda Miller, her Cherokee and Aztec heritage is at the forefront of her crystal store, Stick Stone & Bone. Since opening in 1990, this eclectic shop on Christopher Street has provided the West Village with a vast array of raw minerals, jewelry, incense, candles, and more, sourced from Native American artists, craftspersons, and businesses. Peruse the shelves and tables of sparkly wares or opt for a convenient Manifestation and Intention package like the House Clearing and Blessing Kit, which provides energetic purification.