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Fight Continues for Indigenous Peoples Day in Tucson, Arizona

An organization in Tucson, Arizona, seeks to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Months after the annual federal holiday in October honoring Christopher Columbus, a Tucson-based organization continues to work to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in the city.

The effort, which started in January, is being led by Jose Matus, Pascua Yaqui tribal member and Executive Director of the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders (Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras or IAWB).

Jose Matus, executive director of Indigenous Alliance Without Borders, stands in front of the organization's building. Photo courtesy Maya Bernadett.

“We as indigenous people have more to offer than casinos and popovers,” Matus said. “We have contributed to this community and continue to do that. We have people that have graduated from college, are lawyers, doctors, but people don’t see that.”

The organization works with tribes affected by the US-Mexico border. The idea to start an Indigenous Peoples Day campaign came from a board member, and from there the Tucson Indigenous Peoples Day Committee was created.

The group first approached San Xavier District, located within the city of Tucson, and one of the eleven districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

After they passed a resolution declaring the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples Day two more tribes, the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui, plus the City of South Tucson , followed with resolutions of their own. South Tucson and the city of Tucson are different cities.

The approach, Matus says, is to start reaching out to the sister tribes of the O’odham, which are the Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community, and Salt River Indian Community, and from there eventually have resolutions from all 22 tribes in the state.

The organization plans to start approaching local cities, and with their support convince Phoenix and Tucson, the two biggest cities in Arizona, to adopt an Indigenous Peoples Day resolution.

Matus said he hopes that a state-wide holiday like Indigenous Peoples Day will promote awareness of the substantial impact that indigenous people have on the state.

According to the 2010 census, about 5-percent of the Arizona population is Native American, and more than one quarter of the land belongs to tribes.

“We as indigenous people have never been recognized and respected as we should be,” Matus said. He said he hopes that with the push not only in Arizona but nation-wide to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, Native Americans will finally get the respect they deserve.

States and cities across the U.S. have opted for Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day, including Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota, Portland, Oregon, Anchorage, Alaska, and Alburququerque, New Mexico.