PINETOP-LAKESIDE — On the heels of the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative (IPI) announcing its support of HB 5473 introduced by U.S. Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif. on Sept. 30, IPI’s Plan B for 2021 — an Executive Order for a Proclamation on Indigenous People’s Day, was signed by President Joe Biden on Oct. 8, and celebrated on Monday, Oct. 11 alongside Columbus Day.
Dylan Baca, president and founder of IPI, said they wanted to be sure they were working with the White House so they would have another option — should the Torres’ bill fall through — to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
Baca said it took IPI board members and their advisory committee about eight months to work on the draft. Arizona Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai had contact with Clara Pratte, executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington D.C. office and Biden’s former campaign director for Tribal engagement, and IPI board member, who helped get the executive order to the White House. IPI also received help from Arlando Teller, deputy assistant secretary for Tribal affairs in the U.S. Department of Transportation and former Arizona legislator, along with a number of Tribal organizations and legal counsel.
The IPI board consists of Baca, Peshlakai; Pratte; and Felicia Rotellini, a veteran prosecutor and trial attorney who served under Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as superintendent of banks.
Baca told the Independent that he received the call during the morning hours of Friday, Oct. 8 advising him that Biden would sign the proclamation that afternoon at the White House.
Biden is the first president to recognize Indigenous People’s Day with a presidential proclamation.
In the proclamation Biden stated, “The Federal Government has a solemn obligation to lift up and invest in the future of Indigenous people and empower Tribal Nations to govern their own communities and make their own decisions. We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country. Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country — and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our nation.”
Baca, currently a student at Columbia University, was pleased with the outcome.
“Today is a historical event as it marks the first time in history that the United States has recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Our nation’s history has taught us time and time again that peace, love, and nonviolence work to protect us against the dark corners of the human spirit. When our generation’s story is told, let it be our generation who laid down the heavy burden of hate and let peace triumph over violence and hatred. Let it be our generation who worked to create a society built on the ideas of equality, peace and unity. It is the hope of my tribal community and Indigenous People across this nation that this day will help alleviate the effects of oppression and work to create future generations who understand the importance of our shared experiences in hopes of creating a stronger, more unified nation,” said Baca.
Baca founded IPI in 2019 and in that year he worked with the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside in getting the town to issue a proclamation for Indigenous People’s Day to be celebrated along with Columbus Day.
In 2020 IPI worked with Peshlakai and realized more headway with the Initiative when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a proclamation to celebrate the day alongside Columbus Day. Acknowledging the significance of Ducey’s proclamation, IPI and other dignitaries held a press conference at the Heard Museum in Phoenix to mark the historical occasion.
With Torres’ HB5473 currently filed and now in the House Oversight and Reform Committee, IPI and others have reached another milestone in their quest “to designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a legal public holiday and replace the term “Columbus Day” with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”, and for other purposes.”
Dawnafe Whitesinger, Baca’s mother, a Navajo County Supervisor and director of instructional programs at Dishchii’bikoh Community School in Cibecue, is a strong supporter of IPI.
“Indigenous peoples across the country face numerous social challenges and this historic proclamation will help bring important light to the challenging conversations in Indian Country. It is through recognition and providing a space for representation that empowers a marginalized population in our country and helps to break down barriers for a people that have often been forgotten for their important contributions to our nation. As a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and an indigenous woman, mother and wife, I am grateful for this historic recognition and step to honor the story of Tribal nations across our country,” stated Whitesinger.
Biden called upon the people of the United States “to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and the Indigenous peoples who contribute to shaping this nation.”