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Flagstaff Hosts Virtual Events For Indigenous Peoples' Day

Deidra Peaches/Change Labs

The City of Flagstaff is hosting a virtual celebration today in honor of Indigenous Peoples' Day. Organizers of the event say it’s an opportunity for Native and non-Native people alike to understand the violent history of colonialism—and also envision a better future. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with two Diné speakers at today’s event, Rose Toehe and Carmenlita Chief.

Rose Toehe: My name is Rose Toehe and I am working at the City of Flagstaff as the coordinator for indigenous initiatives.

Carmenlita Chief: And my name is Carmenlita Chief…I serve as a senior program for the Center for Health Equity Research at NAU.

Melissa Sevigny: Carmenlita Chief For you personally what is the importance of having an Indigenous Peoples' Day?  

Carmenlita Chief: The importance of the Indigenous Peoples' Day is definitely to pause and celebrate the resilience and the contributions of our beautiful nations and our cultures, but most importantly this day provides a platform for us to portray an accurate depiction of indigenous histories and contemporary existence, which is also part of the healing process from centuries of oppression, violence and trauma.

Melissa Sevigny: Rose, do you want to add anything?

Rose Toehe: Just to add to that, I think this virtual reality kind of thing, has really helped in that we can now connect people across the country to partake. Especially those who have been out of touch with their own cultural identities, it’s a chance for them to reconnect.

Melissa Sevigny: Can you talk about how indigenous knowledge can help with current challenges in our society? Carmenlita, let’s start with you.

Carmenlita Chief: So for me, how I look at indigenous knowledge is that what is central to indigenous knowledge system is that there’s a strong focus on relationships…. We as humans don’t hold a higher position than animals or plants or other life forms that we happen to share this earthly space with, but we work in concert with each other because we each have gifts of knowledge… I think when we talk about indigenous knowledge in that way, when you apply it to trying to come up with solutions to a lot of challenges like climate change or health inequities that indigenous people are most vulnerable to, it is about trying to get others to understand that we have a responsibility to these relationships.

Rose Toehe: And I think that’s something that people are beginning to realize, that there is some very ancient knowledge that can really potentially and most certainly help our societies today. Because too much of the time, people have been just taught to take from the Earth and not give anything back. This whole interdependency has been forgotten.

Melissa Sevigny: You both talked about Indigenous Peoples' Day as an opportunity for healing... I’m curious is there something you think non-Native people should do on this day… to further that goal of healing?

Carmenlita Chief: Maybe one thing to keep in mind… is first of all not really relying on Native people to educate you and tell you about these things. We have enough resources now in this digital technological age, there are so many videos out there made by Native people, even Native TikTok is out there, Native Twitter, all of these resources are out there. Don’t solely rely on indigenous people to inform and broaden your perspective person to person, go out and do that research on your own.

Rose Toehe: I come from the spiritual side first. When I think about what kind of healing could come out of some of the activities, and a day planned for that, I hope people will get up early and go do a prayer for a successful time together.

Presentations will take place virtually today beginning with a traditional prayer at 9 a.m. and ending with a recipe demonstration at 3pm. You can find the schedule of events here:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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