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Flagstaff City Council likely to begin future meetings with Indigenous land acknowledgment

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Council In Person

Members of the Flagstaff City Council.

An acknowledgement of Indigenous lands appears on the horizon for Flagstaff City Council meetings as members on Tuesday unanimously gave strong support for a statement to be read at the outset of future discussions.

The land acknowledgment comes after it was workshopped by the city’s Indigenous Commission beginning in July. With city council’s support, the acknowledgement is now scheduled for final approval at the Tuesday meeting.

The acknowledgement was presented to city council Tuesday by Rose Toehe, the city’s coordinator for Indigenous initiatives. It reads:

“The Flagstaff City Council humbly acknowledges the ancestral homelands of this area’s Indigenous nations and original stewards. These lands, still inhabited by Native descendants, border mountains sacred to Indigenous peoples. We honor them, their legacies, their traditions, and their continued contributions. We celebrate their past, present, and future generations who will forever know this place as home.”

Councilmember Austin Aslan, who introduced the consideration of a land acknowledgement through an agenda item request earlier this year, said it was important to share where the idea came from. He said the land acknowledgment that is read by the Southside Neighborhood Association inspired him to make the request to the council.

“I want to give credit to Deb Harris and the Southside Neighborhood Association for paving the way for this,” Aslan said. “This is very much the least that we can do, but it is something that we can do.”

Vice Mayor Becky Daggett said she was proud to be on the city council that would eventually approve and utilize the acknowledgement. She thanked Toehe for her work on the acknowledgement.

“Rose, thank you so much for shepherding this through groups, organizations, and really making sure we heard from the public and that we had a consensus on a statement,” Daggett said.

In addition to receiving support from the council, several public commenters showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to advocate for its approval.

“I would like to thank you all for acknowledging land that is sacred to more than 14 tribes in this area,” Indigenous commission member Fawn Toya said. "This is an opening of many doors that need to be opened within the city.”

Diversity Awareness commission member Jean Toner was present at the meeting to support moving the approval forward.

She informed the council that Flagstaff’s Commission on Diversity Awareness just recently approved a recommendation that the council adopt the land acknowledgement as drafted by the Indigenous Commission.

“The Commission on Diversity Awareness cannot overstate the value of the long overdue acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples' homelands and the revered place of the sacred ground both past and currently,” the recommendation states.

Kiara Weathersby, a Northern Arizona University student development manager in the Office of Indigenous Student Success, said she supported the current language of the acknowledgement, but added that students have voiced a preference for the specific tribal communities and nations to be listed.

The drafting process saw thorough engagement from a diverse sample of the public, according to City Manager Greg Clifton. He said iterations of the acknowledgement have “been before many eyes” and there have been discussions on every word.

Councilmember Adam Shimoni said that throughout the process of drafting the land acknowledgement, his biggest concern was making sure it was inclusive.

“I really feel like this is it,” Shimoni said. “I am excited to see us move forward with this hopefully as-is. I have heard commissioners speak to the importance of their words, and hopefully we don't start tinkering with this.”

According to the meeting agenda, the purpose of the land acknowledgement is to “formally acknowledge and reflect on the attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples and the historic trauma caused by colonialism.”

Councilmember Miranda Sweet said the acknowledgment is “long overdue.” According to the Indigenous Commission, the practice will create opportunities for deeper understanding and support future collaboration with Indigenous community members.

“I am utterly proud and happy to put my support behind this,” Mayor Paul Deasy said.

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and one of the key figures squaring off against the feds, says "if sitting down and talking to them will work, great. If not, we're going to the courtrooms again, because that's where we've been successful."


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