People often me say there are three things, that once attained, can never be taken from you: your culture, spirituality, and education. It is the pride that I have in my Native American heritage that compels me to celebrate my culture, as well as the diverse cultures of tribes throughout California.

Earlier in August, my Assembly colleagues joined me to commemorate the fourth Friday of September as California Native American Day, to celebrate California’s First People. For more than two decades the California Indian Cultural Awareness Conference has occurred during the fourth week of September, with a special evening event on Friday to celebrate California Native American Day.

I founded the conference with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to bring together Native American Tribes all throughout California with the goal of educating elementary students on the culture and history of Native Americans. It’s held at the Santos Manuel Student Union on the campus of California State University San Bernardino to accommodate for the many students that attend each day.

We teach the students Native American culture that has been passed down generation through generation. They are taught about the importance of traditional arts by learning bird songs and basket weaving, in addition to the importance of history as they learn about how California’s Mission System and early state policies effected Native American peoples.

To close out the week of education, we hold a free event open to the public on Friday evening, Sept. 27 with dancers and singers from Tribes throughout California, including Native American food, and demonstrations of traditional ways of life and knowledge.

As assemblyman for the Inland Empire and the first California Native American elected to the state legislature, I’ve been fortunate to elevate Native American culture at the state level. On the Assembly floor I’ve had the historic honor to open the session in prayer by performing traditional bird songs as well as authoring legislation that recognizes tribal cultural knowledge and supporting Native American women, girls, and youth.

When the governor issued a groundbreaking executive order apologizing for the past genocide and mistreatment perpetrated against Native Americans by California during its founding, I was honored to join him with a coalition of tribal leaders to thank him and share our own accounts.

Altogether, California Native American Day is of great importance to me and one of my favorite events of the year. It is a wonderful sight to see the community come together to honor the rich culture of California Native Americans; a culture that has been kept alive by elders passing it down to the younger generation. That is why we celebrate California Native American Day, and why I hope you will be able to join us this year.

California Native American Day will be celebrated with a free event open to the public featuring traditional bird songs, music, cultural food and artists from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, at CSUSB Santos Manuel Student Union, 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino. For more information, call (909) 537-3454.

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