Indigenous Peoples Day in Durango culminated Monday evening with 150 people meeting in Buckley Park for a rally and then marching down Main Avenue to call for the “Chief” sign in front of Toh-Atin Gallery to be removed.
“This Chief here that’s not us. That’s not who we are. This caricature is part of a humbling history, but it’s not us. We have a rich heritage,” said Stephanie, who is Native American. She declined to give her last name.
After gathering in the park, the assembled crowd marched down the east side of Main Avenue to the 600 block of Main and then crossed the street and marched up the west side to the Chief sign on west Ninth Street.
Marchers chanted “No justice on stolen land!” and “Whose land is this? Our land!” Upon arrival at the Chief sign, they chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racists mascots have got to go!”
In the 600 block of Main, marchers briefly traded chants with a group of 20 Trump supporters in front of the Top That Yogurt shop – with Trump supporters beginning chants of “USA!”
A group called Four Borderless Corners has begun a gofundme page under #NotYourMascotDurango with a goal to raise $50,000 to pay for the removal of the Chief sign.
As of 8 p.m. Monday, the page had raised $275.
Before the march in Buckley Park, Nick Diaz, who grew up in Ignacio but now lives in Denver, said he attended the rally and march in an effort to amplify Native American voices.
“What really brought me here is the conversation between white and Black, and whether whites or Blacks do or don’t get along on Native lands,” he said. “The conversation between Blacks and whites is important. I won’t take anything away from it, but it leaves us out. Brown people are left out of the conversation, so anything that helps brown people find their voice, I’m happy to help.”
The plight of Native Americans, who suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism and other chronic diseases at disproportionate rates, is largely ignored in the country’s current conversations about race, Diaz said.
Earlier in the day at Fort Lewis College, students, staff members and faculty also celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day.
For Melvin Sisto, a Hopi studying political science at FLC, it seems appropriate to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on a campus where 45% of the students are members of Native American tribes or Alaska Native communities.
“The day is normally viewed as Columbus Day, but as I see it, the more states, cities and schools that celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, the more acknowledgment of our cultures. It’s one day when we can fully recognize and celebrate our cultures, celebrate who we are as a people, and that we’re still going,” Sisto said as he prepared a poster for the Indigenous Peoples Day Solidarity Walk.
Also Monday, La Plata County commissioners proclaimed Oct. 12 to be Indigenous Peoples Day in the county this year and in subsequent years.
“The proclamation is in recognition of the heritage, history, art and traditions of Native American people, and in particular our Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute neighbors and those Indigenous people living in our community,” a news release said.
The city of Durango celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day the second Monday each October.
In place of Columbus Day, the state of Colorado celebrates Frances Xavier Cabrini Day the first Monday in October. The holiday honors a Catholic nun who started several charitable organizations in Colorado, including the Queen of Heaven orphanage in Denver and a summer camp for girls that is now home to the Mother Cabrini Shrine.
Sisto offered a prayer in Hopi before the FLC march, which led about 100 people from Center of Southwest Studies through the main square around the Clocktower and came to a conclusion at the Student Union.
Native American and Alaska Native students planned to hold an afternoon social event with appropriate COVID-19 restrictions in place at the Native American Center.
Simon Chief, assistant director of the FLC Native American Center, said Indigenous Peoples Day honors the resilience of Native American cultures, and is especially appropriate to celebrate on a campus where 45% of students are Natives.
He said 185 Native American tribes and Alaska Native communities are represented at FLC.
The Native American Center gives those students a hub where they can receive academic support, social and cultural support, and support as they transition to a college lifestyle, he said.
“My role is more to empower students and to amplify their voices,” he said.
LeManuel Bitóí, FLC associate vice president for diversity affairs, said as a Native American-serving institution, the college takes pride in recognizing and honoring Indigenous Peoples Day.
“This is another way that we strive to create a greater sense of belonging for our Indigenous students, staff and faculty on our campus and in Durango,” he said.
Brian Twenter, a visiting professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies, said Indigenous Peoples Day also serves to bring attention to some of the issues tribes across the country are dealing with – mentioning the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country.
He said seven of 10 Native American women and girls will be abused in their lives.
He also noted the inadequacies in the funding of Indian Health Service to meet the needs of Native American communities facing COVID-19.
“The Diné people are suffering, and the IHS has not been adequately funded by the federal government,” he said.