Speech Advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

It has been said that it is good to start off your remarks with a joke. So let me give this a try:

The year is 2017 — we want to believe that we have moved beyond racism and sexism; that technology will solve our environmental problems, that generous philanthropy and making education more accessible will end poverty.

Yet in this same period of time we Indigenous People still fight to change the name of an NFL football team based in this nation’s capital from a derogatory and racial slur about us to something different.

We face the fact that our indigenous sisters, mothers, and daughters are murdered or missing at unfathomable rates.

That our neighbors dress up in “redface” for Halloween, for homecoming, for dance routines, and for sham battles — all here in Utah.

That laws are still on the books that systematically keep our sovereign nations from blossoming.

That for every indigenous person who makes it to college that so many are left behind on the side of the road.

None of this, of course, is funny, but it is definitely a joke.

So in that context, it makes sense that a man from Spain, who never set foot in Utah, who brutalized the Natives in the Caribbean by forcing them into servitude, making men dig for gold, cutting off their hands if they found none, sought out girls as young as nine for his men, and fed babies to his war dogs, to be celebrated. Yes, he ushered in an age of so-called “discovery,” but on the receiving end of that has been over 500 years of colonialism, racism, exploitation, genocide, war, relegation, and ignorance.

I say, “Enough already!”

It has been said that my indigenous ancestors were led here by the Holy People and that this land is our Promised Land. It is time that we all recognize that this is place where all of us must live and where we must recognize each other.

170 years ago, the Mormon settlers arrived in this valley, led by their Holy People, and began to establish their society. We commemorate their settlement on July 24th.

Our indigenous peoples have lived with this land for literally thousands of years and we are still here. It seems only appropriate to respect the legacy of our ancestors and to give a nod to the people who still make this their home.

That is why recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is different than recognizing any other ethnic group. On the one side is the story of the settlers, who have come by wagon, train, car, and plane. On the other side is the story of the indigenous inhabitants who still live here despite all that we have faced.

Making “America great” means we have to embody the ideals of America: democracy, equality, and freedom. It doesn’t mean reverting back to a time of white supremacy and the Wild West. We must come to a truth and reconciliation — dealing with the unconformable truths of the past and the ones that persist today. The fact that today’s society would not have been possible without the extermination of Native peoples, the stealing of their lands through made up laws and deceit.

The first step, in this day and age, is to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It is the least that can be done.

When I say a first step, I really do mean that.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day won’t bring back the murdered and missing indigenous women — an epidemic we’re facing.

It won’t bring back our grandfathers who were exposed to radiation in the uranium mines.

It won’t bring back our uncles who were hit by drunk drivers, our youth who commit suicide, or help Native children graduate high school at higher rates.

It won’t bring back those who battled armies long ago or battle bureaucracies today.

It won’t stop pipelines from going through sacred sites or threaten our water.

It won’t stop people from trashing our lands for oil or gas or robbing our artifacts.

It won’t even bring us back our promised lands.

It is, however, recognizing and honoring the people who lived here and the people who continue to do so today. We call upon our federal, state, and municipal leaders to do the right thing — the moral thing, and offer us the respect our peoples deserve and taking those steps in the right direction.

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