After the Flagstaff City Council passed a resolution declaring the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples' Day last year, the city has now hired an indigenous liaison.
Catherine Esquivel, who is Navajo and grew up on the Navajo Nation north of Flagstaff, said she wants to be available to listen to other Native Americans living in and around Flagstaff.
“There are quite a lot of people who feel like they don’t have a voice,” Esquivel said. “I want to be approachable and I want other Native American people in the community to know that they do have a voice through me.”
Esquivel added she also sees her role as one that makes sure conversations about indigenous issues are not forgotten by council or city departments.
The position of indigenous liaison is funded for only 19 hours a week, so Esquivel also continues to work providing meals to senior citizens at the Joe C. Montoya Community & Senior Center.
Esquivel served on several advisory boards on which she said she has worked to represent a native perspective, including serving five years on Flagstaff Unified School District’s Indian Education committee.
The position, which has been years in the making, was filled by the city early this year. Flagstaff's goal of the position is to improve the relationship between the city and the indigenous communities within and surrounding the area.
Growing up and living in and around Flagstaff, Esquivel said she is intimately aware of issues faced by indigenous people in the city and northern Arizona.
“Quite frankly, Flagstaff hasn’t always been a friendly place for indigenous people,” Esquivel said. “I know what its like to be targeted. I’ve been followed around in stores and I will tell the clerks, I’m not here to steal anything. I’ve experienced these things.”
Since her hiring, Esquivel said she has started meeting with various city officials and staff members, including those working on issues of affordable housing, the 2020 census and officials with the Flagstaff Police Department.
Esquivel said she recently spoke to FPD Deputy Police Chief Daniel Musselman, and discussed what the agency can do to recruit more Native American officers and conduct more training for new recruits.
“I know what it’s like when someone is talking above me or at me, and that was not my experience at the police station,” Esquivel said.
Additionally, the position is also dedicated to working toward the goals of the city's strategic plan to address indigenous issues developed with the help of the advocacy group the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff, City Manager Barbara Goodrich said.
That group, which was also involved in the hiring process for the position, worked with the city throughout 2016 and 2017 to hold six community forums focused on issues facing the indigenous community, Goodrich said.
The forums focused on issues facing indigenous communities in and around Flagstaff including homelessness, economic inclusion and protecting the San Francisco Peaks which are sacred to several tribes in northern Arizona and the Southwest said Darrell Marks, a member of the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff.
These six forums also helped influence the goals of the city’s strategic plan, Marks said.