As president of the Intertribal Student Union, Danielle Spencer and Vice President Melvin Vierras have been fulfilling their mission to help promote higher education, build community, and be recognized for the historical and cultural contributions of the Native American community to the city. So it made perfect sense to follow other Bay Area cities like San Francisco and Berkeley and request that the City of Oakland also have an official Indigenous Peoples Day.
“We wanted to join all of the other groups of people in the U.S. who have a special day to celebrate and recognize their leaders,” says Danielle, who is Navajo, Laguna Pueblo, and Illocano (Filipino). “The Bay Area represents the largest concentration of
urban Native Americans. We think it’s important to recognize our part in the history of the urban Indians who were relocated to San Francisco and the East Bay during the government’s Relocation Act of 1956.”
It was no small task going through all of the city’s back-and-forth communications to get approval from the city. The club was fortunate to have the help of Danielle’s mother, Maria Spencer, a Merritt administrator, who has connections with the city and made some inroads with the support of City Council member Noel Gallo.
So after several months of paperwork, on December 4, the Intertribal Student Union and communitymembers were proud to attend the Oakland City Council meeting where the city joined the ranks of nearly 50 other cities and some states across the country by declaring the second Monday of October as the official Indigenous Peoples Day (replacing Columbus Day).
Besides recognizing the official day, the Resolution, which also honored Oakland’s IntertribalFriendship House, one of the first urban American Indian community centers in the nation, along with other community organizations, also stated that this recognition would “create opportunities to learn and educate our communities about the great contributions of Native Americans to our city and our country.” A second Resolution was approved to recognize the month of November as “National First Nations Month.”
Danielle was excited to watch it happen and to know that a small club like theirs could make such a difference. “It was a great moment,” says Danielle. “I just thought, ‘Wow, that actually happened. It showed that that’s why clubs like ours exist to give us the opportunity to be initiators and make a difference. Our club was able to start the process to bring more recognition and importance to Native Americans as we also work with high school students to promote higher education and introduce them to Merritt.”