GLENDALE—Artists, activists, and community members gathered on April 29 and 30 to mark Days of Solidarity: Celebrating Native American and Armenian Survival. Through performances, workshops, screenings, a panel, and a closing community drum circle, this weekend program spotlighted the creative and spiritual bonds between two groups of people who have preserved and advanced their ancient cultures. Both the native peoples of the Americas and Armenians emerged from their own respective genocides to become proud, productive world citizens.
Presented by Abril Bookstore, In His Shoes, the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP), the event had three objectives: strengthen solidarity between Armenians and the indigenous native tribes of the Americas, lay the groundwork for future collaborations, and raise money for LPLP’s Water Protectors Legal Defense Fund. A federally-recognized nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, CA, LPLP defends the rights of South Dakota’s Native American families. They expose and respond to the epidemic of illegal seizures of Lakota children by the state of South Dakota, and their Water Protector’s Legal Defense Fund provides legal defense for indigenous leaders targeted by the government and energy companies in the Dakotas.
“We were inspired by the peaceful protest at the Standing Rock Reservation,” said Program Director Raffi Wartanian. “We wanted to honor their courageous movement against a militarized oil industry and do something innovative in the month of April when the Armenian community so often turns inward to mourn its loss and express its outrage against genocide denial. We are not alone in confronting such discrimination. Days of Solidarity was our attempt to share our experience with others and, in turn, engage with their history in order to (re)claim our common humanity.”
The program showcased indigenous and Armenian performers and presenters side-by-side as a manifestation of solidarity. Grammy Award-winning native flutist Mary Youngblood presented a prayer song to open the evening alongside the Armenian priest Father Vazken Movsesian who delivered moving remarks and an opening prayer. Said Fr. Vazken, “We were very proud to be a part of this event. Honestly, the best way to commemorate a genocide is to work towards preventing genocide. Days of Solidarity brought together two of many communities that need to explore survival via expressions of truth, understanding and love.”
Daniel Paul Nelson of LPLP then introduced his organization’s work and discussed the historical and contemporary violation of rights suffered by the indigenous tribes of the Americas, particularly the Lakota. “Days of Solidarity was a uniquely inspiring event,” Nelson said. “In order to combat the evil of genocide we must leverage love in creative ways—which means actively forming bonds among our various communities. Days of Solidarity, by bringing together the Armenian and Lakota communities and emphasizing their commonalities, shows us what progress looks like in a world still troubled by narrow-mindedness and division.”
The first performance segment featured readings of original poetry by Pamela Peters, Armine Iknadossian, Brian Vallie, and Shahé Mankerian. Next, Wartanian performed songs by Ottoman Armenian composers on the oud before playing an improvised duet with Youngblood who followed with a stirring solo performance of original songs inspired by folk traditions. After a presentation of Armenian ethnographic music and dance by Aya Ensemble, the Spirit Lake Singers drummed and sang as Cheyenne Phoenix performed the fancy shawl dance.
“Art and music in particular captures the indescribable: two cultures wanting to thrive, to have their history and traditions exist, who live with the looming pain of genocide denial, who to this day continue to be threatened on their native lands,” said attendee and storyteller Lousine Shamamian. “Being in the audience and experiencing the cultural collaboration, the healing through art, music, spoken word was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had.”
Iknadossian, Aya Ensemble, and Phoenix returned the next day to lead workshops in dance and poetry. After film screenings describing genocide committed against Armenians and and the native tribes of the Americas, a panel discussion took place based on theme of spirituality, law, and media in Armenian and Native American Resistance. Filmmaker Carla Garabedian joined Youngblood, Nelson, and Fr. Vazken for an insightful and thought-provoking panel before a closing drum circle ceremony.
Shawl dancer Cheyenne Phoenix said, “The event was empowering and educational within the two different cultures. I loved how we shared our solidarity and love for each other’s struggle and compassion for our history of genocide.”
Activist organization March and Rally Los Angeles was present and live streamed both days of the event (day 1 and day 2).
The fundraising will continue until the closing reception on Thursday, May 11th at 8pm in the Roslin Art Gallery. On display are over 25 works of art by 13 different artists. All works are available for purchase and proceeds from the sales will go towards LPLP’s Water Protector’s Legal Defense Fund. So far the initiative has raised $2126.95.
“Bringing together these two groups of people with a similar past to share their stories and culture has truly been a cathartic and healing experience for all of us,” said Abril Bookstore manager Arno Yeretzian. “The ripples will spread.”
*The term “Native American” is used to refer to the indigenous native tribes of the Americas. The National Congress of American Indians says that as of 2003, there were 562 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.