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Grand Canyon and Flagstaff to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day
Virtual events take place Oct. 11 in Flagstaff, featuring NPS Archaeologist Jason Nez, among others

Indigenous People's Day takes place Oct. 11. (Loretta McKenney/WGCN,NHO)

Indigenous People's Day takes place Oct. 11. (Loretta McKenney/WGCN,NHO)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. – On Oct. 11, communities across the U.S. will observe Indigenous People's Day, which celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures.

At the Oct. 6 Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) community stakeholder meeting, GCNP Superintendent Ed Keable informed attendees that in recognition of events taking place across the nation, a virtual event will be broadcast from the city of Flagstaff called "Honoring the Four Sacred Elements of Life: Mother Earth, Father Sky, Grandparents Water and Fire.

The event will take place between 8:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 11, and will feature park colleague and speaker Jason Nez among other community leaders.

Nez, who is an archaeological technician with the National Park Service (NPS), wildland firefighter and member of the Navajo (Diné) Tribe, will speak at 3:15 during the "Grandparent Fire" segment of the event.

Part of Nez's work includes assessing archaeological sites during the process of fighting wildfires, in order to preserve and protect them for future generations, in addition to educating the public on the value of prehistoric indigenous sites.

In 2020, Nez won the Grand Canyon Historical Society's Pioneer Award for his work in educating the public about issues facing the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

“I think the fact that I can tie these prehistoric landscapes to living tribes helps people to value them. There are seven generations that will need these resources to connect them to their stories and traditions,” Nez said in a 2020 interview with the Navajo Times.

Registration for the virtual event is required, and those interested in attending may sign up by visiting

History of Indigenous Peoples' Day

The movement to create Indigenous People's Day began in the early 1990s shortly after discussions at the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas took place in Geneva, Switzerland.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss replacing Columbus Day in the United States with a celebration to be known as Indigenous People's Day.

Around the same time, communities across the country, most notably Boston, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California, witnessed large protests by Native American rights groups during Columbus Day events.

Proponents of ending the (Columbus Day) holiday have pointed to uncomfortable facts surrounding the painful history of countless Native Americans whose cultures have been affected by "diseases, warfare, genocide and forced assimilation" by European settlers that ultimately arrived as a result of Columbus' discovery.

Despite this tragic aspect of American history, there has been much debate over whether Columbus Day should continue to be celebrated, as some say the holiday represents Italian American heritage and contributions.

According to a 2019 report by National Public Radio (NPR), in the 1930s, Italian Americans "latched onto the day as a way to mainstream and humanize themselves in the face of rampant discrimination" following a series of lynchings of Italian Americans that took place in New Orleans, Louisiana decades earlier.

While the debate over Columbus Day continues, Indigenous People's Day has gained significant ground: Thirteen states, including Arizona, observe the holiday, while many individual cities (more than 175) have adopted it regardless of their state's position.

Arizona officially recognized holiday

In 2020, Arizona officially recognized Indigenous People's Day for first time by proclamation of Gov. Doug Ducey, however, it has yet to become a permanent fixture.

The proclamation was issued after State Senator Jamescita Peshlakai and a youth-led advocacy group, Indigenous People's Initiative called on the governor to establish the holiday using his executive powers.

Since then, SB 1812 has been introduced to the Arizona Senate during the 2021 legislative session, which has been listed as read.

So far, no action has been taken on the bill.

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