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Nations celebrate Indigenous Peoples New Year

CUSCO, Peru – Native people throughout South America celebrated Indigenous Peoples New Year during the week of June 21 – 24 with rituals, festivals, music and dancing.

In the Southern Hemisphere, June 21 is the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night, and is when the sun begins to return. Traditionally, this has been the New Year for the Quechua, Aymara, Mapuche, Kolla, Guarani and other peoples, a time of ritual recommitment to ancestral identity and to the Earth.

The Aymaras, Quechuas and other people celebrated with a ceremony at the sacred site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia, where the first rays of sun were greeted at dawn by 30,000 people. Bolivian president Evo Morales participated in the traditional offering to the Earth, which was performed by the aumawtas, or Aymaran spiritual elders.

In Peru, the festival of Qoyllur Rit’i, “Snow Star,” celebrated at 4,700 feet near the mountain Ausangate, drew people from communities throughout the Andes, who walked for several hours to honor and celebrate the apus, or mountain spirits, of the region.

Traditionally, Qoyllur Rit’i is celebrated on the first full moon in June, which this year arrived in the week of the winter solstice.

Peruvians in Cusco honored the Incan tradition of their city with Inti Raymi, the welcome of the sun, a re-enactment of an Incan ritual which was banned from the time of the Spanish conquest in the 1500s until 1942, when a group of Cusqueno activists fought to reinstitute the ceremony. The streets of Cusco fill with music and dancers in traditional clothing for the entire week leading up to Inti Raymi.

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The Mapuche celebrated the Winoy Tripantu, or the return of the sun, gathering in community rituals and celebrations throughout Chile and Argentina. In a New Year’s e-mail greeting, Mapuche representatives of the organization Huillimapu, Rene Gonzales Melo, Venancio Conupena and Eduardo Torres Gutierrez wrote, “In this most transcendental day for original peoples, the Huillimapu organization and network sends our greetings to all the brothers and sisters of the world.”

Huillimapu noted June 21 had been celebrated for generations in indigenous communities as a time of renewal.

“The trees, from the depths of their hearts, begin to grow. The animals begin to appear, and with their howling, call out for the right to live in community.”

Huillimapu also said the Mapuche, who successfully lobbied the Chilean government to recognize June 24 as a national holiday, would continue to pressure the government to respect Mapuche territory, culture, and national sovereignty.

Argentina officially declared June 21 as a national indigenous peoples’ holiday in 2005. Students who define themselves as Native now have permission to leave school to attend ceremonies.

“This is something completely new for us,” Guillermo Mamani, Aymaran editor of the newspaper Renacer, told the periodical Telam. He noted that the Inti Raymi ceremonies in Buenos Aires were getting larger every year.

Celebrations for the New Year were also held in several Canadian cities.