Raised in Oklahoma, O’Farrell is the first and so far only Los Angeles City Councilman of Native American descent.
He says his past governs what he does every day.
“It’s something I grew up with, and it’s part of my DNA,” O’Farrell says. “Being a tribal member took on a whole new deep meaning.”
On his mother’s side of the family in Oklahoma, his great-grandfather is part of the history of the Wyandotte nation. His grandfather was the chief in the 1940s and 70s.
O’Farrell says “We were all very aware of and very proud of our Native American heritage. In fact, my Irish-American father was just as proud as anyone else that we were Indian children.”
He says it is a deep and personal responsibility.
That’s why, when he became a council member, he wanted the ceremony at the Los Angeles River, which was vital to the natives of Southern California. He was sworn in by Chief Billy Friend of Oklahoma.
“The common bond we have is that we are all of native descent,” O’Farrell says.
It was back in 2014 that O’Farrell began thinking about changing the way the city celebrated Columbus Day. He says Native Americans for decades were simply erased from history.
“From the late 1800s through the (1930s) 40s and 50s until the Native American movement, Indian Americans were truly powerless.”
The city council voted to eliminate Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
“It was still highly dramatic when it came to the vote,” he says.
For some in Italian-American society, this was exactly what Native Americans had been protesting against for years, replacing the social inclusiveness of one group for the sake of another.
O’Farrell says it was not meant to exclude anyone.
“It’s really getting along with our history and acknowledging what it’s through that we can really have something to celebrate. We can celebrate the first people who made it possible for all of us, even myself, to be here and live the American dream. ” he says.
O’Farrell believes the government should now go a step further and apologize to Indians for what was done to them in the past.
“There’s an emotional and spiritual cure to the fact that now the Native America symbolism is really important, so I believe a lot in gestures, but it’s even more important to follow up with actions, and I think an apology is really necessary. . “
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