News Nina Giardinelli 10/9/2017
As the setting sun bathed the limestone pavement of Salt Lake City’s Library square in a golden glow, drums and chanting could be heard echoing off the building’s sweeping facade. Salt Lake City’s first official Indigenous Peoples' Day brought members of varied tribal affiliations to brave the evening chill of Utah’s fall weather and gather together in celebration. The event comes a mere six days after the Salt Lake City Council voted in favor of a resolution proclaiming the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Though 26 U.S. cities have already passed similar legislation, starting with Berkeley California in 1994, the council vote came as a surprise to many. “When we heard that Salt Lake City was considering it and that the Utah League of Native American Voters were starting that discussion with the Salt Lake City Council it was really exciting for us as an organization. We were hopeful even though we got shut down a couple of years ago,” said Braidan Weeks who attended the event as a representative of the Utah Diné Bikeyah. The Diné Bikeyah offered their support via written letter for the Utah State Senate Bill 170, proposed by State Senator Jim Dabakis during the state’s 2016 general session. If passed, the bill would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day. It failed to pass, by a margin of five votes in March of last year.
The celebration began with a prayer of gratitude offered to the East by native elders Butch Russell and Linda Jim, followed by speakers, traditional dancers, and contemporary indigenous artists. Speakers included Moroni Benally, James Singer and Carol Surveyor, co-founders of the Utah League of Native American Voters, which proposed the legislature for the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples' Day with the Salt Lake City Council. Much of the dialogue throughout the evening placed emphasis on the indigenous peoples’ struggle for accurate recognition and representation in history books.
“There is a lot of meaning to this day, it’s been a long time coming. History was written incorrectly, maybe one of these days we will be able to correct that. This is what I want for my people, this is what I want for my younger generation—to be proud of who they are. That is what this day symbolizes for us. It’s about time that we get our day,” said Linda Jim, a Diné woman who spoke at the event.
Many speakers and performers advocated for indigenous people’s right to regain their voice in society.
“I grew up in Southern Utah and I definitely grew up feeling like I didn’t have a voice. I dealt with a lot of racism and being treated like less for being Native American,” stated Mason Runsthrough, an Assiniboine/Nakota performer at the event who recalls memories of being chased around the house with scissors by his best friend’s mother in a fervent attempt to cut his long hair.
Sacred Rattle Woman, a Fancy Shawl Dancer from the Ute, Paiute and Apache tribes, performed a Butterfly Dance. She said the dance is named such because “our feet move like butterflies and our shawls move like butterflies, it's like we are floating and blessing the ground.”