Celebrate this new annual holiday with us in honor of all of our ancestors,
the people continuing the struggle today and future generations.

Mark Gorrell
(1940- 2011)

Environmentalist and Architect

A Founder of Indigenous Peoples Day


Indigenous Peoples Day 2011 was dedicated to the memory of Mark Gorrell, co-founder of the Berkeley Pow Wow, who for two decades worked for the rights of native people and all people. We will miss Mark’s energy, humor, and long term commitment to the well-being of the community and the planet.


Mark Coyote
By John Curl

Berkeley Indigenous People’s Day Pow Wow, on Saturday, October 8, 2011, was dedicated to the memory of Mark Gorrell who, with his wife Nancy, for two decades worked for the rights of native people and all people, and made profound contributions to the origin, celebration, and meaning of Indigenous Peoples Day, but now has walked on.

This will be the 19th celebration of the annual pow wow in Berkeley, always held on the weekend closest to the anniversary of  the beginning of the European arrival in the Americas, formerly called Columbus Day.

The pow wow is a community coming together, a traditional celebration of shared culture and values, respect for the Earth, sustainability, balance, Native culture, and brotherhood among the peoples of the world. From the first Berkeley pow wow 19 years ago, one of  Mark’s annual jobs, as a trusted elder, was to handle the group finances. He was also always chosen to chalk the pow wow circle in the form of a turtle, representing Turtle Island. This was an important honor, as the circle is the spiritual center of the pow wow, representing the land and the earth, which to Native people is sacred. Turtle Island is the continent, which according to stories in many tribes, arose from the ocean during a great flood, when each of the animals dove down from the turtle’s back one by one to the bottom of the sea, brought up a handful of earth, and  placed it on the turtle’s shell.

People who knew Mark recognized his spirit. He always was an important member of the smudging circle, cleansing negative energy out of our bodies and minds, and purifying the area. We will miss his energy, smiles and long term commitment to the Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow, the well-being of the community and the planet. The wry humor with which Mark dealt with the world shows us that he had more than a bit of Coyote in him. Many Native tribes and nations tell stories about Coyote, who was a trickster and at the same time a very powerful creator.

Mark and Nancy had been key members of Resistance 500, the group that in 1991 brought the idea of Indigenous Peoples Day to the Berkeley City Council to replace Columbus Day. Until that time it was not widely known that Columbus was not only an explorer, but a military leader who led the attack on Native people, invented European imperialism in the Americas, began slavery in the New World and the transatlantic slave trade, took personal leadership in the genocide of the Taino Indian nation, and organized the enslavement of the survivors in mines and plantations.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was proclaimed in 1990 by representatives of  120 Native nations and human rights activists at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador. Upon return from the conference, participants and others began organizing in their communities. Native people of Northern California organized the Bay Area Indian Alliance, which joined in a broad coalition with non-Native people to coordinate 1992 activities with Indigenous leadership, called Resistance 500. The Bay Area had been chosen by the U. S. Congress as the national focus for the planned Quincentenary Jubilee celebration, with replicas of Columbus’s ships scheduled to sail into the Golden Gate in a grand climax (eventually canceled because of widespread opposition). The Berkeley Resistance 500 Task Force, set up by the City Council,  proposed replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and in October, 1991, the City Council unanimously declared that Indigenous Peoples Day would be commemorated annually. The Berkeley Pow Wow quickly became a local tradition.

Here is one story told about Coyote, the trickster, in a version from the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma. It reveals a bit about Mark and the way he dealt with the world.

In the beginning, death did not exist. Everyone stayed alive until there were so many people that there was hardly any room left. A council was held to determine what to do. One man arose and said that it would be good to have the people die and be gone for a little while, and then to return. As soon as he sat down Coyote jumped up and said no, that will not solve the problem, if people return soon there will be not enough food or room for our grandchildren to live on earth. The others objected, saying that there would be no happiness in the world if their loved ones died forever. All except Coyote decided to have the people die for a little while, and then to come back to life. The medicine men built a large grass house facing east. The next time someone died, they assembled in the medicine house and sang for the spirit of the dead. A whirlwind blew from the west, circled the grass house, entered through the east, and from the wind stepped a handsome young man. All of the people rejoiced except Coyote. The next time someone died Coyote hurried to the grass house and quietly sat by the door as the others sang. When he heard the whirlwind coming he suddenly shut the door. The spirit in the whirlwind passed by. The people were very angry, and chased Coyote away, and since then he has had to run from one place to another. But ever since then the door has been shut, and Coyote’s trick preserved the world for all the future generations.

Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day with us in honor of all our ancestors, the people continuing the spirit today, future generations, Mark, and Coyote.


Proclamation of the City of Berkeley, September 27, 2011

In Recognition of
Mark Gorrell

and his Many Contributions to the City of Berkeley and Humanitarian Service on Behalf of Others

Whereas, for four decades Mark Gorrell has selflessly given his knowledge and service to the City of Berkeley, and to others, tirelessly contributing to social progress as architect, designer, environmental leader, and respected teacher, following a path of community service through all of his work, and

Whereas, Mark readily tackles vexing and complex environmental and social problems such as designing and building a sustainable civic infrastructure; reducing the environmental impact of urban life, including his pioneering designs in the new field of transit villages; promoting adaptive technologies such as solar and wind power; championing recycling, reuse, and industrial-scale composting, and designing recycling centers locally and around the world, and

Whereas, Mark has provided exceptional leadership in hosting Native People’s at the annual Pow Wow in Martin Luther King park, celebrating Indigenous culture and values, respecting the Earth, sustainability, balance, and brotherhood among the peoples of the world, and

Whereas, Mark has put himself on the line many times to advance social justice, having been arrested to save old-growth redwoods, in the struggle against apartheid, and protesting the university’s involvement in weapons labs, and

Whereas, Mark has been a leading and prescient voice for energy conservation and alternative energy, serving numerous terms on the Energy Commission, governing the Community Energy Services Corporation, drafting and lobbying for the passage of the Residential and Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinances (which have been replicated across the country), and advancing Rising Sun, a local nonprofit training young people in the service of energy conservation, and

Whereas, Mark’s dedication to social justice and change reaches back decades, first in the 10th Street Neighborhood Association, where he helped to create a park, sidewalks, and street trees; as a  core member of the editorial collective of  Berkeley Action, the unique newsletter focused on electing progressive candidates for public office; and as board member, President, and newsletter editor of  the Thousand Oaks Neighborhood Association, and

Whereas, Mark has worked tirelessly to guide Berkeley towards Zero Waste, fighting plans for a local incinerator while working to legislate recycling and waste reduction, helping to pass a county measure to fund recycling, co-authoring Berkeley’s Zero Waste resolution, serving on the Ecology Center Board of Directors for over 20 years; and bringing Berkeley’s successes to other parts of the world, and

Whereas, Mark is a leader in green building, one of the first architects in Berkeley to design and build green retrofits for homes and offices, serves with  Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, is an active member of the Sustainable Business Association, and is co-founder of both the Green Resource Center (later Build It Green), and Berkeley EcoHouse, a demonstration home for middle and lower income residents, and

Whereas, beyond all Mark’s accomplishments, it is never so much what he does, but how he does it, always modeling kindness and having the unique ability to defuse a tense moment with an absurd joke, thus relieving the tensions so that people can get back to problem solving.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Berkeley City Council recognizes a lifetime of achievement and service on the part of Mark Gorrell, an exemplary, learned, and wise citizen, extends our appreciation for his many contributions, and hereby declares September 27, 2011 as Mark Gorrell Day, in the City of Berkeley.

Indigenous Peoples' Day & the Pow Wow Highway
the new holiday & the pow wow tradition

The History of Berkeley's Indigenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day Committee
Mission Statement

an historical poem on the Columbus Invasion

Contact Indigenous Peoples Committee