Tempe Union High School District will be one of many schools observing Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, Oct. 11 by not holding classes.
Once referred to as Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the people that Christopher Columbus and many other colonizers forcibly removed from their own land and caused harm to when settling in North America.
In the past decade, it has become more accepted to refer to the day in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, and the City of Tempe officially adopted the name for the holiday this year.
However in Tempe Union High School District, there is more to celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day than just having a day of observance for students and staff.
“We wholeheartedly believe that part of the richness of a TUHSD education comes from the diversity of backgrounds of our students and employees, exposure to different viewpoints and beliefs, etc,” said Megan Sterling, executive director of community relations for the school district that serves about 14,000 students in the City of Tempe, the Town of Guadalupe, the Gila River Indian Community, the Ahwatukee Foothills area of Phoenix and parts of Chandler.
Sterling also shared that the Social Studies content specialist at Tempe Union put together resources for teachers to review and share with students that work with their curriculum and schedules.
In addition to providing students and teachers with resources, Tempe Union also celebrated Indigenous People in their community during a flag ceremony that honored and installed flags of five tribal communities they serve during a governing board meeting on Sept. 15, 2021.
Video: Installation of tribal flags at Tempe Union High School District
Video provided by Tempe Union High School District and edited by Meredith Bushman/ AZEdNews
The installment of these flags has been in the works for some time now, thanks to parent and Pascua Yaqui Tribal Member Ismael Osuna. Osuna, whose son is currently a student in the district, said that he was inspired to take action to get tribal flags installed at Tempe Union High School District after seeing it happen at Tucson Unified School District a few years prior.
“For years, TUHSD has educated many of our Yaqui students. Many of them have gone on to have successful careers and we are proud of them. But, at the same time, there was always something missing. If you look around, there is nothing that identifies or acknowledges any of our tribal communities at Tempe Union,” Osuna said during the school board meeting.
In addition to the Pacua Yaqui Tribe, the Navajo Nation, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had flags installed at the governing board meeting. All had representatives at the meeting as well, except for the Navajo Nation as travel restrictions prevented them from coming to the meeting in person.
“We are here to recognize our friends, our students who represent a number of our tribal neighbors, and it’s an honor to have this opportunity in our district to recognize these five flags that represent our native children that attend TUHSD,” said Dr. Kevin Mendivil, superintendent of Tempe Union High School District, before the ceremony began.
“Friendship and family and community are values that we profess in our core values as a school district and we try each day to exemplify that in our actions and the words that we choose and the decisions that we make on behalf of all of our students,” Dr. Mendivil said.
This ceremony was a milestone for Indigenous People who have tribal members who are students at TUHSD and who can feel welcomed and seen by these flags being on display.
“Many years ago, our people were afraid of flying a flag. Only because of persecution. For a long time, once our families started fighting for the right to go to school, fighting for their right to vote, fighting for their right to exist,” said Peter Yucupicio, Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman.
For Tempe Union, including these flags was a step in living out their core values.
Sterling shared that within their schools, TUHSD believes, “That all people bring value to our organization. We believe that all people deserve respect and dignity. We value the richness that comes from our diverse cultures. We benefit and learn from the voice of our diverse community.”
The meeting, although almost a month prior to Indigenous Peoples Day, served as a reminder of the rich culture and presence the tribal communities have within Tempe Union High School District.
“Today we are still standing here in the presence of everybody on Facebook and everybody here and in the presence of our own people and our brothers and sisters of other tribes,” Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Yucupicio said.
“I know it’s humbling when we think of where we came from and where we’re going. I think it’s a beautiful thing that you have opened up your mind and your heart to welcome us here in this institution of learning,” Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Yucupicio said.
“We have become a quilt of many ethnicities and colors to take care and blanket this world, and that’s the beauty of being tribal and being proud of who you are,” Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Yucupicio said.