Indigenous Group Receives Dismissal from Scottsdale Mayor
A local grassroots initiative demanding that the state of Arizona abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day (IPD) has faced dismissal by MAG, or the Maricopa Association of Governments. MAG is a council of Maricopa County governments that develops regional policies, and is comprised of the mayors of cities and towns in Maricopa County, as well as the leaders of three Indigenous tribes in Maricopa County.
Laura Medina, a member of the Indigenous Peoples Day planning group, attended an April 27 MAG Regional Council meeting, and during the 3 minute public comment period, spoke about IPD’s work to change the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day in Arizona. At that April meeting, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton expressed his support of the holiday change, as did leadership from the city of Gilbert. Medina mentioned the other US cities that have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, such as Albuquerque, N.M., Anadarko, Okla., Portland, Ore., St. Paul, Minn., Seattle, Wash., and Olympia, Wash. Medina then spoke before the Management subcommittee of MAG, and Executive Director of that subcommittee, Dennis Smith, expressed his support of the October holiday change. After that, IPD was invited to be formally placed on the MAG Regional Council agenda for May 2016.
Soon after this, IPD volunteers were notified that IPD was taken off the May agenda, due to the decision of the MAG chair, W.J. “Jim” Lane, Mayor of the City of Scottsdale. This was especially ironic to IPD volunteers who are familiar with the City of Scottsdale’s promotion of itself as “The West’s Most Western Town”, and with the numerous “Native American” art galleries and jewelry stores that dot every block of downtown Scottsdale. The city of Scottsdale earns many tourism dollars annually, based on perpetuating long-ago images of Indigenous people.
MAG members are aware of the four month deadline that the IPD group has to change the October 10 holiday. MAG informed IPD volunteers that June “does not work” to have IPD placed on the MAG agenda, and that MAG does not meet in July. IPD planners were told that they would have to attend the MAG August meeting and speak again during the public comment period then, and be limited to 3 minute comments.
This switch in tone was puzzling to Medina, in light of the numerous compliments she received from the Management subcommittee in April. After Medina’s conversation with Nathan Pryor, Government Relations Manager for MAG, Medina felt that MAG’s suggestion to return in August for public comments only, and to no longer have IPD placed on a MAG agenda, is MAG’s tactic to intentionally delay discussion of the October holiday change until the August 31 Regional Council meeting. “As elected leaders, they have to make time for the community. That is the number one task for being a leader,” stated Medina.
Medina believes MAG is reluctant to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as an official holiday because IPD volunteers are demanding more than an annual day of cultural celebration, and are calling for inquiry and investigation into systemic oppression that continues for several marginalized communities living in Arizona. IPD is also demanding that Indigenous histories be added to the K-12 curriculum by the Arizona Department of Education, as has been done already in the state of Washington. Medina also stated, “MAG wanted to hear about the Indian of the past, and about casinos, rather than learn about us as contemporary people, and the genocidal conditions we are still living in.”
Medina went on to state examples of systemic oppression, such as the justice system targeting Indigenous women at higher rates than any other ethnicity, and Indigenous youth offenders being less likely to have their charges dropped than Caucasians. Medina was told by MAG that mayors and elected leaders receive a lot of negative feedback from their public, and that if the Columbus Day holiday change is to be considered, the IPD message should be diluted. MAG wanted IPD to talk about the “positives” of Native Americans, such as casinos. Medina stated that Maricopa County leaders should listen to what all their constituents have to say, not just the positive comments.
The next MAG Regional Council meeting is Wednesday, June 22 at 11:30 am at 302 North First Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85003 on the 2nd floor, in the Saguaro room.
IPD urges Indigenous and non-Indigenous supporters to attend the June 22 meeting and to submit comments in favor of the holiday change. To learn more about Indigenous Peoples Day or to volunteer with the group’s October events, please check out http://www.ipdaz.wordpress.com or follow them on Instagram and Facebook. IPD would like to organize carpools to the June 22 meeting, and needs volunteers.