Springs Celebrates Inaugural Indigenous Peoples’ Day

This past Tuesday marked the first officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Colorado Springs. The proclamation, issued by Colorado Springs City Council president Richard Skorman ‘75, was supported and pushed through by the Abolish Columbus Day Group of Colorado Springs. Although the proclamation is not legally binding, the group advocates it is a step in the right direction to bring attention to injustices against Indigenous people.

Students part of Native American Student Union (NASU) along with professors and community members discuss the importance of observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Photo by Nick Penzel

Colorado College students, faculty, and Colorado Springs community members gathered on Wednesday to celebrate the now officially recognized holiday. The event began with a reading of the proclamation: “As citizens of Colorado Springs we shall set aside this day to celebrate and honor the thriving, diverse cultures of the Indigenous peoples in the Pikes Peak region, and that Indigenous Peoples’ Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing and interconnected struggles of all Indigenous peoples locally and beyond.”

Then, various members of different tribes and communities put on a brief “fashion show,” displaying attire from different tribes. Some of the tribes represented were the Navajo, Southern Ute, Santa Clara Pueblo, Pawnee Dakota, and Standing Rock Lakota. Each detail of their clothing had a different significance. After this presentation of clothing and a short dance, the screening of “Columbus Day Legacy” began. The film, which was shot in Denver by director Bennie Klain, examines the controversy of the Columbus Day Parade in Denver. Many of the Indigenous people who spoke in the film pointed out the same overarching theme: although this history may be uncomfortable, at some point the truth needs to be dealt with.

That’s exactly the issue and power of privilege in this society, said Professor Glenn Morris (Associate Professor and President’s Teaching Scholar at CU Denver), that you don’t really have to consider the negative implications of Columbus Day if you are not a person of color. Following the screening, a discussion was led by Carisa Yazzie Gonzalez and Tessa McLean, two active members of the Indigenous community in Colorado Springs and Denver. Gonzalez is an active educator on the topic of Indigenous communities across the United States and McLean is a political science student at CU Denver actively involved in organizing the AntiColumbus Day Parades over the past couple years. Gonzalez discussed the importance of understanding “intergenerational trauma,” as she puts it, and the effect that a history of genocide continues to have on her community. She also pointed out that although the proclamation in Colorado Springs is an important step, Columbus Day has never been a widely celebrated holiday in this city. (Although, Colorado was the first state to celebrate Columbus Day in 1909.)

There are far more pressing issues to consider “for our future [and] for our children,” such as the problematic monuments and statues in Colorado Springs that celebrate men responsible for killing people of color and destroying their cultures. McLean then went on to discuss that although the Columbus Day Parade in Denver has  lost traction, it still happens each year (despite the fact that the city of Denver moves to permanent observance of IPD this year). The Indigenous community in Denver has tried to have an open dialogue with the Italian American community in Denver that is responsible for the parade, but productive conversations have not taken place.

The Indigenous community continues to work actively to pass a bill that will abolish Columbus Day and recognize, as Mateo Parsons (co-chair of NASU) puts it, “[for] our government [to admit] to its wrongdoings and begin honoring those it attempted to exterminate.” The discussion after the screening also brought up Colorado College’s role in celebrating and acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Dwanna Robertson, Assistant Professor of the Indigenous Studies in the Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies Program, observed that “we have to take responsibility of the weight we carry as Colorado College” and bring that presence to Colorado Springs. In addition, she said, “we have to start speaking like we have some responsibility.” Pasons was also present at the event and gave more insight regarding what the college’s interaction with the surrounding community has consisted of.

“NASU has been in consistent communication with the Colorado Springs Indigenous community in planning the Tuesday evening event, and we were blessed to have their support for our march on Monday (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). It was great to be able to connect the greater community and begin breaking the CC bubble, something many student groups and campus organizations have had trouble accomplishing. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our Colorado Springs family.”

This event was coordinated by one of NASU’s faculty advisors, Dr. Christina Leza in partnership with the Anthropology, Southwest Studies, REMS departments, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Professorship. Student members of NASU volunteered and modeled indigenous attire to celebrate their heritage.

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