Panel discussion examines Indigenous Peoples Day

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Red Nation chair Cheyenne Antonio at an Indigenous Peoples Day event at the Farmington Public Library on Oct. 15 2019.

FARMINGTON — The implementation of and the meaning behind Indigenous Peoples Day was discussed during an event about the day on Oct. 14 at the Farmington Public Library.

New Mexico celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day this year, and it is among 11 state governments to replace Columbus Day, which remains a federal holiday.

For several years, state governments as well as cities and educational institutions have repealed Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Melanie Yazzie is the former chairperson for The Red Nation, a coalition of Native and non-Native activists, educators, students and community organizers dedicated to the liberation of Native peoples from capitalism and colonialism.

Yazzie talked about the first Indigenous Peoples Day held in Albuquerque on Oct. 12, 2015.

A month later the Albuquerque City Council adopted a resolution to establish the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

From left to right: Indigenous activist Tara Begay, Red Nation chair Cheyenne Antonio and Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, Melanie Yazzie at a panel discussion on Native American Issues on Indigenous Peoples Day at the Farmington Public Library on Oct. 14 2019.

The acknowledgement was the culmination of effort by The Red Nation, several community organizations and then-city councilor Rey Garduño to establish the day, she said.

Yazzie said Albuquerque was among several cities that recognized Indigenous Peoples Day in 2015.

The momentum to establish the day was spurred by a movement to protect Oak Flat in Arizona from copper mining and Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where an 18-story telescope is proposed for construction, she added.

"It was a beautiful thing to be part of that history and that globalization and that movement," Yazzie said.

Cheyenne Antonio, a member of The Red Nation, talked about how Indigenous Peoples Day goes beyond acknowledging Native people to spreading awareness of environmental issues Native Americans continue to face.

Indigenous Activist Tara Begay at a panel discussion on Native American issues held at the Farmington Public Library on Indigenous Peoples Day, Oct. 14, 2019.

Antonio explained that while growing up in the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation, she saw the removal of natural resources by drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

That experience, as well as continuing her education, lead her to become an activist.

She encouraged audience members to research these issues and develop solutions.

"With that, I try my best every day to connect the two and figure out solutions in our community. What does that look like as far as supporting each other and being a good relative, but also making it normal to talk about the state of this world," she said.

Tara Begay, another member of The Red Nation, talked about violence against Navajos in border towns, including an incident during the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20 in Farmington.

Begay said she was part of a group of Native Americans who were hit by pennies thrown by someone driving past Gateway Park, where the event was held.

She added that various forms of violence are inflicted on homeless Diné each day.

Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, Melanie Yazzie, at a panel discussion on Native American issues at the Farmington Public Library on Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct 14, 2019.

"I would like to recognize that these lands that we are on is Diné territory. Until we have realized the territories that we are on and have given that acknowledgement, healing will happen," Begay said.

The panel discussion was a collaboration between the Native American Center at San Juan College and the Farmington Public Library.

The college has recognized Indigenous Peoples Day since its College Council approved and implemented a resolution by the Associated Students of San Juan College in 2016.

Byron Tsabetsaye, director for the center, said the panelists provided insight to topics that impact Indigenous communities, which is part of the discussion prompted by Indigenous Peoples Day.

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

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