San Juan College honors Indigenous Peoples Day

First-ever celebration at college acknowledges indigenous people from throughout the Americas

Noel Lyn Smith
Beclabito Chapter resident Patricia Whitehorse demonstrates how to make frybread dough on Monday the Native American Center at San Juan College in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College's first celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day included discussion, music and a food demonstration.

College officials implemented the day after students and staff called for its recognition last year.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day has gained momentum in recent years in cities across the country. While the majority of celebrations focus on Native American culture and history, organizers at San Juan College decided to acknowledge indigenous people from throughout the Americas.

This morning, students gathered in the Learning Commons Plaza for a lecture about the indigenous experience, self-identity, community and unity.

Jorge García, senior program manager for El Centro de la Raza at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said cultural differences exist between the indigenous peoples of North and South Americas, but they share an understanding of life after 1492.

"We understand one another, and in that understanding, we have more similarities than we can think of," García said.

Virginia Necochea, executive director of the Center for Social Sustainable Systems, talks on Monday during an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at San Juan College in Farmington.

Virginia Necochea is the executive director for the Center for Social Sustainable Systems in Albuquerque. During her talk, she spoke about her experience reclaiming an indigenous self-identity.

For Necochea, part of the process included using the term "xicana" as oppose to "chicana," which she explained is a rejection of the Spanish version of the Nahuatly word.

"That idea, that thinking, that reflection of your identity is so important," she said.

She also talked about the importance of colleges and universities offering courses in indigenous and native studies.

Another item she called attention to is the protest by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

Necochea, who visited the area earlier in the year, said the gathering continues to attract tribal members from North, Central and South Americas and represents a resurgence of native peoples joining to protect the environment.

"That movement represents an indigenous community saying, 'No more,'" she said.

Patricia Whitehorse leads a frybread demonstration on Monday at San Juan College in Farmington.

Other presentations took place inside the Native American Center, where Beclabito Chapter resident Patricia Whitehorse demonstrated how to make frybread.

Whitehorse, whose granddaughter attends San Juan College, carefully explained the steps to making the bread, including how to add ingredients without measuring cups and spoons.

On her table were items involved in the process, including a large bowl, flour, salt, baking powder and water.

Volunteers with the All Nations Leadership Association make frybread for a stew sale on Monday at the Native American Center at San Juan College in Farmington.

While making the dough, Whitehorse spoke about the importance of frybread and how it could be used as criteria for judging potential in-laws.

"If you make frybread with lots of holes in it, it's not good. Especially if you're an in-law," she said with a chuckle.

Today's event was organized by the Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration Committee, which formed after the college approved the day.

Tsáá Henderson, student secretary for the committee, said the event accomplished its mission of providing information to students.

"I'm sure they were educated," Henderson said, adding the committee will start planning next year's event.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.