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Los Angeles just became the latest city to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day in favor of Columbus Day. The holiday has been gaining support across the country Time

Navajos praise proclamation as positive step in racial dialogue

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FARMINGTON — Some members of the Navajo Nation who attended Tuesday's Farmington City Council meeting said a proclamation issued during the meeting could help improve interracial relations.

Mayor Tommy Roberts issued a proclamation declaring the second Monday of October each year as Indigenous Peoples Day. The date is federally recognized as Columbus Day. City Manager Rob Mayes said he is not aware of the city ever recognizing Columbus Day as a holiday for employees. He said all city offices and services will be open.

Roberts presented the proclamation to Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie. Roberts said he plans on sending copies of the declaration to leaders from the Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute and Jicarilla Apache tribes.  

Indigenous Peoples Day aims to honor and recognize the contributions of Native Americans and to reframe the holiday that has typically celebrated the European explorer who enslaved Native inhabitants of areas known now as the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Other cities that recognize Indigenous Peoples Day include Gallup, Grants, Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico; Durango and Denver in Colorado; Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle. The states of Alaska, Minnesota and Vermont celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead of Columbus Day.

Also on Tuesday, the Santa Fe County Commission passed a resolution recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day

San Juan College began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day last year and will present a series of events this year to celebrate Native American culture.

As he accepted the proclamation, Yazzie challenged the communities to use it as a catalyst for increased communication and collaboration.

Following the meeting Yazzie said he hopes there can be increased communication about some of the racially fueled topics that the city deals with, including alcoholism and discrimination. He said he would also like to see increased dialogue about the impact of energy development on Native people and the land. He said he is concerned about fracking occurring in the southeast portion of the county.

Kyle Jim, a Navajo who attended the meeting, said the proclamation is a "great recognition to our people."

Jim said he hopes the city can become a more colorful place and that the different cultures can embrace each other.

Roberts said after talking with Yazzie several weeks ago, he decided to issue the proclamation out of a desire to demonstrate respect both to the Native Americans who live in Farmington and to the Native communities near Farmington. The proclamation highlights the economic, political and societal benefits that the Native American communities have brought Farmington.

When he accepted the proclamation, Yazzie said it serves as "a recognition of a great egregious wrong that was done to the Native peoples of this Western Hemisphere." 

"There is no doubt that our Indigenous world would have been eventually found by foreigners, it was only a matter of time, but we did not have to be slaughtered," Yazzie said. "Columbus is credited for setting this ensuing tragedy upon us. Columbus is not a man to be celebrated. His reputed accomplishment is overshadowed by the atrocities that he perpetrated."

Yazzie said the proclamation is a positive step, but it will not heal the racial strife between Farmington and the Navajo communities. During his speech, he said a history of racism, discrimination and murders have led to the tension between the communities.

"I don't bring this up to aggravate anyone, only to say that we must accept the dynamics between our communities, good and bad," he said. "How else will we understand what it is that we need to focus on to be better neighbors? We must move on."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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