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MOVE OVER, COLUMBUS

Signs calling for the abolition of Columbus Day formed the backdrop for a protest in front of Flagstaff City Hall in 2016 calling for the city to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day and no longer celebrate Columbus Day.

The second Monday in October may be known as Columbus Day nationwide, but from now on, in Flagstaff it will be recognized as Indigenous People’s Day after the city council approved a resolution Tuesday.

The resolution, which was passed unanimously by Council, recognizes that the area of Flagstaff has been inhabited by native peoples “since time immemorial,” and states that the city has a responsibility to combat racism and to build justice and equity for Native Americans and all people who are targets of discrimination.  

Darrell Marks, a member of the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff, which has been working with the city on indigenous issues since 2016, said a lot of work went into making this a possibility.

“We can’t take the credit for this -- it’s the work of all the community members who participated, all the youth who were at the very first forum that started this process. They laid out the groundwork,” Marks said. “They said these are the things that we want to see happen, this is how we see ourselves in the community and this is how we feel the community sees us.”

The resolution was originally introduced by councilmember Eva Putzova in 2015, but Council decided against passing what many Native Americans felt was nothing more than a symbolic act.

Instead, the council directed the city to begin work with the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff to organize six community forums, each focused on different issues. The forums were held from November of 2016 and May of 2017.

Since then, the city has begun work on a five-year strategic plan focused on indigenous issues and is currently in the process of hiring an indigenous liaison to help with that process. And given these plans, members of the Indigenous Circle feel the city has now earned the proclamation of Indigenous People’s Day.

But for many, it still has a long way to go. When the resolution was before the council last month, local Navajo activist Klee Benally pointed to the lack of a change in the city’s contract with Snowbowl as an example that the efforts had only been a show.

“Our struggle is not one that should be negotiated in this room, but one that we demand in the streets,” Benally said.

Councilmember Putzova said she acknowledged that many felt not enough progress had been made, but with the Indigenous Circle in support she felt they could recognize the progress the city has made.

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Putzova pointed at the city’s anti-camping ordinance and the relationship between the Flagstaff Police Department and Native American communities as two issues she hopes future councils take up.

And Marks agreed that, although he was glad Council passed the resolution, this was only the beginning.

“We have a mandate now as a community to be able to work toward these things,” Marks said. “We have our homeless relatives that live here in Flagstaff that have been struggling for decades, […] and unfortunately there are still many people in our community who shun them, who push them aside and don’t consider them as a part of the community when they are.”

Mayor Coral Evans said she hoped this could be both a healing and aspirational document and one that helped address concerns raised during some of the forums she attended.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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