PINETOP-LAKESIDE – The second Monday in October for some is Columbus Day and for others Indigenous Peoples’ Day — and for others, both or neither is celebrated. That may change if legislation introduced by U.S. Rep.Norma Torres, D-Calif, gains traction in the 117th Congress.

H.B. 5473, introduced on Sept. 30, would replace the term Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, a move supported by many, including the Indigenous People’s Initiative (IPI), a non profit founded by Dylan Baca in 2019 while a student at Blue Ridge High School.

Baca, now a student at Columbia University, worked with the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside in 2019 to have the town proclaim the second Monday of October 2019 as Indigenous People’s Day. A host of dignitaries supporting the initiative were in attendance for the Oct. 3 reading of the proclamation. Among those in attendance were Dist. V Navajo County Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger, Baca’s mother; State Rep. Arlando Teller (D), Dist.7; and State Sen Jamescita Peshlakai, (D), Dist. 7, who was responsible for the 2018 legislation declaring June 2 as Native American Day.

Whitesinger is White Mountain Apache and Baca is White Mountain Apache and Navajo through his grandfather.

Peshlakai is a member of the Navajo Nation, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Gulf War, the first Native woman senator for the State of Arizona and is a board member for the Initiative which is a non profit.

Teller is also Navajo and his grandfather was a Navajo Code Talker.

Moving forward with the IPI in 2020, Peshlakai had success in getting Oct. 12, 2020 recognized as Indigenous People’s Day in Arizona. Gov. Doug Ducey signed the proclamation on Sept. 4, stating it was not to replace Columbus Day, but to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day simultaneously with Columbus Day.

In a Sept. 21, 2020 press release regarding the proclamation, Peshlakai stated, “Our next step will now be making this a permanent change in Arizona by passing my sponsored bill in the coming 2021 legislative session.”

Before the Oct. 12, 2020 holiday, IPI, along with many dignitaries, held a Sept. 29 press conference at the Heard Museum, one of the premiere destinations known for its rich history of American Indian art and culture. The conference was to thank the governor for signing the proclamation and to celebrate what they considered a milestone in their quest to recognize and honor the contributions of Native Americans.

Speaking at the 2020 press conference, Baca stated, “I’m thrilled that this Oct. 12 will be recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day in Arizona. I founded the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative to educate and advocate on behalf of Indigenous Peoples to ensure that Native Americans are accurately represented. Now we must work to make this a permanent holiday in Arizona.”

As she had stated in 2020, Peshlakai did introduce SB 1812 on Feb. 3 this year to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. With 25% progression, the bill died in committee. The next day it had a second reading and is pending in the Senate Government Institutions Committee.

In IPI’s Sept. 30 press release Baca stated, “If the United States chooses to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we acknowledge a history marked by broken promises, violence, and deprivation in hopes of creating a brighter future where we can stand by one another with cooperation and mutual respect. By knowing the story of Indigenous Peoples, we understand ourselves and others better. It binds us together and reaffirms that we are all American. The Native American experience is not separate from the American story, but is crucial to that story. It is the hope of my community 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.”

Torres stated, “My Indigenous Peoples’ Day legislation is an opportunity to honor the true nature of our founding. This legislation helps our federal government move beyond an outdated practice that perpetuates inaccurate teachings and devalues the history of indigenous people. This holiday should be focused on remembering the hardships that indigenous peoples have endured and honoring our country’s first inhabitants.”

Joining Torres in the legislation to replace the term Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in federal law and regulations, and to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a public holiday, are U.S. Representatives Suzan K. DelBene (WA-01), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), and Sharice L. Davids (KS-03), along with U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.).

Columbus Day is a federal holiday proclaimed in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to recognize the achievements of Columbus, an Italian born explorer, who discovered the Americas in 1492. Since around 1970 it has been marked with controversy.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is currently celebrated on the second Monday of October in at least 13 states and more than 100 cities.

Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi and White Mountain Apache — all tree tribes are among the few nationally that have managed to hold onto a large share of their ancestral lands, language, culture and beliefs.

More information on IPI can be found at https://www.indigenouspeoplesinitiative.org.

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

(3) comments

Bob Smith

Good, long overdue! The natives can never be properly compensated for the loss of their culture and land but we can at least stop honoring the man who set the standard for mistreatment.

JoSchnepp

I'm totally in favor of an Indigenous People's holiday. However, I do NOT agree that it should usurp our history by taking the place of Columbus Day. We have too much of the replacing of our history & culture happening in this country. History is for us to learn from, both good & bad. I do not like ANY "CANCEL CULTURE".

Hurtado

Indigenous People's Day is a good idea. I personally feel that anyone against it takes that position because the Cancel Culture wants to take away Columbus Day. Taking away (or renaming) a holiday does not change the past. We can never change the past.

We can only look to the past and learn from it to ensure we do not repeat the same mistakes.

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