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Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebrated Across Tri-State Area

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Big Apple has been home to the largest Columbus Day celebration in the country for decades, but there's a growing effort to replace it with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

The art and culture celebrated Monday represent groups at risk of being forgotten, CBS2's Kevin Rincon reported..

"I saw so much land disappearing in my own community, the Nanticoke people in Delaware, that I said I have to do something," said Courtney Streett of the Native Roots Farm Foundation.

Streett was a journalist who gave that up to open a farm to prevent any more land from going away, and to reconnect with nature.

"For indigenous communities, the grass under our feet, the trees, the air, the stones, the water, they are our relatives. To see so much happening to them, that is not good. It hurts," Streett said.

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On Randall's Island, Indigenous Peoples' Day is about re-establishing that relationship with where we come from.

Today is an opportunity to reconnect with one's own ancestral heritage, but also an opportunity to learn new things, like new dances.

"I think it's really important to show our kids that we're all one community. It's not just an indigenous fight, and I think we all have a responsibility," said Kim Calichio of Brooklyn.

"We all can come from all these random lines called countries, but we all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and we all need heat. Nature designed it that way," added Dennis Guiterrez of Queens.

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And the event was also designed as an alternative on the holiday.

"It's basically saying to the city there's a parade on Fifth Avenue, but despite the honoring of Columbus in that parade, we are here celebrating our existence, our survival," said Cliff Matias, co-founder of Indigenous People's Day NYC.

At the parade, lawmakers said you can celebrate both.

"It shouldn't be a versus. Tens of millions of Italian-Americans, including my grandparents, came to this country, made this country a better place. We gotta honor the Italian-American people. That's what the day should be about," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

"For the first time ever, I am declaring that this is Indigenous Peoples' Day and I have a proclamation which will be arriving shortly. But I also want to celebrate the heritage of the thousands of Italian-Americans who came here as immigrants," Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

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Meanwhile, as New Yorkers celebrate the first official Indigenous Peoples' Day, the latest census found the number of Native Americans here in the city actually went up for the first time in a long time.

What went on in the city weren't the only celebrations in our area.

Most kids had the day off from school, but students at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City were in class celebrating and learning about the culture, history and contributions of Native Americans.

"We want to make sure that our students have a really broad understanding of everyone's experiences and culture in greater detail, so that they know or understand a little bit more about how this impacts our nation and the world," said Principal Colin Hogan.

Hogan said school faculty partnered with the American Indian Community School in Wisconsin to design the day's curriculum.

CBS2's Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.

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