College and high school students showed up for the second annual proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day during a City Council meeting despite the first freeze of the season on Oct. 9.
The second Monday of every October has provoked discord in the city for about four decades. A unanimous vote by city council members last year permanently recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Denver, which was harmoniously supported again.
Elizabeth Lindsay, a CCD student, is Seminole Choctaw Cree and comes from a long lineage of native activists, warriors and relatives who were part of the American Indian Movement. She briefly hesitated due to the cold before she was overpowered by the voice of her late grandmother who insisted it was her duty to attend.
“For some reason I felt my grandmother come to me telling me to go. If my grandmother was here she would say let’s go,” Lindsay said.
“Today, I also walked for my mom who couldn’t come,” she said.
Maya Contreras, a sophomore at Denver South High School, also pushed through the weather and joined the dozen of community members as a way to represent the growing number of young people in favor of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Contreras said this recognition will elevate native pride in young people that has originally stripped away since colonization.
“Kids will be proud to say that they are native or indigenous. It’s important because we are the next generation and we are trying to change how things have been,” she said.
This year’s Indigenous Peoples Day was held in conjunction with the first ever Indigenous Peoples Confluence Week organized by the Denver American Indian Commission. The commission works to advocate for social and cultural awareness to promote economic and political equality within native communities in the city.
Kimberly Verilek, an Eastern Shoshone tribal member, serves as the chair on the American Indian Commission and believes these events help acknowledge the contributions of the indigenous communities in the state.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking that time, especially during a council meeting or establishing a permanent day in a place where you’ve had this contentious history,” she said.
Councilman Paul D. Lopez agrees with Verilek that indigenous nations need to be acknowledged especially in a state where 48 different tribes called Colorado their ancestral homelands.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure and pride to read this proclamation,” he said. “The Council of the City and County of Denver recognizes that the Indigenous Peoples have lived and flourished on the lands known as the Americas since time immemorial.”
The proclamation stated that the city continues to recognize and value the vast contributions made to the community through indigenous peoples’ knowledge, science, philosophy, arts and culture.
A dozen smiling supporters surrounded Councilman Lopez as he signed the proclamation and praised the logo for Indigenous Peoples’ Confluence Week. The design was created by Kristina Bad Hand, a member of the American Indian Commission, who has been an artist all her life.
“Healing is very important. Particularly when acknowledging there were wrongs done but also that we can move forward and that there are ways we can heal through art work,” Bad Hand said.
Matene Strikes First, an Ojibwe and Dakota singer, shared his art in form of an honor song in the chamber before a room of standing guests and city council members.
“It’s really impactful to be able to sing an honor song in a government building because up until the 60’s our ceremonies were actually outlawed,” he said.
Strikes First said practicing his indigenous traditional ways brought him a beautiful and powerful feeling.
Strikes First suggested that everyone research their ancestral lineage including white people. He said it will help people live fuller more meaningful lives that will bring everyone together in powerful ways.
Lindsay also believes solidarity is a very important component to the healing of a community. She waited many years for the opportunity to become involved in the same ways her relatives had.
She was one of a 100 supporters involved with last year’s Four Directions March for Indigenous Peoples’ Day organized by the American Indian Movement.
One of her favorite moments of the march was when members of Black Lives Matter 5280 showed up from the eastside of the city toward the West capitol steps to support the indigenous community.
Lindsay said she would defend the rights of black community members and others who had shown up for her own community.
“I came today so younger generations can look and see how we fought for this to keep it alive,” she said.
Lindsay and the other young people inherited a legacy of resistance from older generations which they are working to pass down to even younger generations.