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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
For the first time, New Mexico celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. The change was a long time coming for activists and the state’s indigenous residents.
“We have been given back a day that for so long belittled our people,” Tiana Cachini said at Monday’s event at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “We have always called this land home. Our young people should make efforts to learn our traditions and live up to this change.”
Cachini, Miss Zuni 2019, said her classmates often used stereotypes of Native people at school. Students learned about Christopher Columbus but little about the people who lived in North America before it was “discovered” by European explorers.
Leaders and dignitaries from New Mexico’s 23 pueblos and tribes attended the event.
State Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, said indigenous people should not be acknowledged for just one day.
“Our state wouldn’t be what it is today without the contribution of our ancestors,” said Lente, a member of Sandia and Isleta pueblos. “We have a history, present and future that no one will ever erase.”
Lente and Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, introduced House Bill 100 this year. The law officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in New Mexico. The state is one of at least 10 that have made the change. Lente said the bill was highly contested in the state Senate before it ultimately passed and was signed into law.
The smell of warm fry bread filled the air as Acoma, Zuni, Aztec and Apache dancers performed in the courtyard.
Cyanne Lujan of Sandia Pueblo took her 12-year-old daughter, Bryanna, to the festivities.
“When we have feast days, it’s just our own pueblos, so it’s very cool to celebrate here with a mix of tribes and nations,” Lujan said.
Edward Paul Torres, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and former Isleta Pueblo governor, mentioned several recent accomplishments of Native Americans in New Mexico: establishment of tribal government relationships with the city of Albuquerque, the effort to protect sacred ancestral sites near Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Bears Ears National Monument and the state’s new task force focusing on missing and slain indigenous women.
“The history of Native Americans in this state is complex,” Torres said. “It includes colonization and conflicts. But we have been adamant in ensuring the prosperity of our people. We share a responsibility to create a world our children can be proud of.”
The 2nd Judicial District Court recognized the holiday by announcing the launch of a program that will work to ensure compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law, passed in 1978, sets requirements for handling custody cases involving a child who is a member of or is eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.
“The ICWA Court hopes to set the bar for how (the Children, Youth and Families Department), attorneys, community providers, and the court will work with Native American children, their families, and their tribes,” a spokesman for the court said in a news release.
More than 100 children within the court’s jurisdiction could benefit from the new specialty court, which will be led by Special Master Catherine Begaye, a member of the Navajo Nation. Six other jurisdictions in the country have similar specialty court programs.
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque hosted an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration Monday. Native American speakers addressed tribal sovereignty and responsibility for people, land and animals along the river.
Journal staff writer Katy Barnitz contributed to this report. Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal. Visit reportforamerica.org to learn about the effort to place journalists in local newsrooms around the country.