People in Phoenix will celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, about a year after the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved a resolution to recognize the history and contributions of indigenous peoples and Native Americans on the day that federal and state governments observe Columbus Day.
While Indigenous Peoples Day is new in Phoenix, every day is a celebration of indigenous culture in Kayenta Unified School District, which is a Navajo language and culture district, said Dr. Victoria Yazzie, native language and culture coordinator for the district that serves more than 1,800 students in Navajo County.
About 99 percent of students in the district are Navajo, said Evangeline Wilkinson, associate superintendent of educational services for the district.
In past surveys, parents requested more language and culture in the classroom, and students asked for more opportunities to learn and speak the language, so the district has done just that, said Wilkinson.
Every morning, students recite the Navajo pledge, national anthem, sing Navajo songs and learn a new word in the Navajo language.
“Each day, we like to carry on our traditional values and the teaching of our elders. We are doing as much as we can every day, implementing that within our classroom,” Yazzie said.
As a reflection of those traditional values, Yazzie starts each day by styling a student’s hair into buns, because in “our cultural teaching, the longer our hair is, the more information we know, and when we gather hair into a bun, we are more focused on our goals,” Yazzie said.
Each month, students focus on a theme. This month, students are learning more about the Fall harvest and words related to that.
“I really like the fact that they embrace their language and culture. I always tell them, ‘It’s never too late. Even if you just know one word, learn that word and utilize that word,’” Yazzie said.
Parents and students have let school leaders know they appreciate the focus on language and culture, and attendance has been strong at cultural nights twice a month and cultural events throughout the week, said Yazzie.
Students at schools in Kayenta Unified, and most surrounding districts, will have Monday, Oct. 9 off for Fall Break.
Students at Phoenix Union High School District will have Monday off for Fall Break as well, because the district does not address Indigenous Peoples Day as the state of Arizona still officially deems it Columbus Day, said Craig Pletenik, communications director for the school district that serves more than 27,000 students in Maricopa County.
However, the district will celebrate indigenous people at an El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan ( M.E.CH.A.) youth conference at the district on October 27, Pletenik said.
M.E.Ch.A is a nationwide organization established in 1969 that recognizes the importance of higher learning and activism in the development of communities and challenges students to succeed in their education and overcome cultural prejudice.
With students out of school, community groups and museums have taken the lead in organizing celebrations for Indigenous Peoples Day.
At the event, Arlene Joyce Hughes (Akimel O’otham) will speak about the importance of language retention and the Gila River Indian Community’s work on that issue.
There will also be a viewing of Mayors of Shiprock, a documentary by Ramona Emerson (Diné), about how the Northern Diné Youth Committee has worked to improve their community.
There will also be scavenger hunts, music, art activities, a Wellness Warriors obstacle course, printmaking and the opportunity to play the first videogame developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people.
Museum admission is required to view exhibits at the museum and admission is free for American Indian visitors with a tribal ID.
Indigenous Peoples Day of Arizona will hold a meet up event in downtown Phoenix at Puente Human Rights Movement at 11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 9 at 1937 W. Adams in Phoenix.
The event will feature performances by the Aravapai Crown Dancers and River Aztec Dancing and presentations by the group and ASU students.
There will also be workshops on urban gardening, indigenous parenthood and visioning change.
Attendees can also enjoy readings from poets Ruben Cuk Ba’ak and Alicia Lopez, as well as talks with land and water defenders Kaelyn Pike, Vanessa Nosie and Shannon Rivers.
Attendees are asked to please bring your own water bottle, chair, bowl or plate and eating utensils.