'Still here:' Native American scholars discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Phoenix is part of a growing list of cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day.

October 14, 2019

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona State University alumnaLaura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program in 2018. Today, she works as a student success and retention coordinator at the American Indian Student Support Services. Laura Medina enjoyed getting the day off school for Columbus Day every October. But she also remembers feeling conflicted. The holiday celebrates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. And as a member of Michigan’s Ojibwe tribe, Medina knew that the land he sailed to was neither empty, nor undiscovered. Tribal civilizations like that of her ancestors were already there, and Columbus’ arrival was the start of a brutal colonization campaign that permanently altered their lives.  

“Columbus Day did not feel right, even as a kid,” Medina said. “Back then, you’d sometimes hear people asking why we celebrate Columbus, then around 2012 I started hearing about the idea of celebrating something else, instead.” Laura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. ASU alumna Laura Medina has attended the Indigenous Peoples' Day march in Phoenix for the past two years. This year, she helped organize it. Download Full Image

Now she’s doing exactly that. This year, she’s spending the holiday with ASU students, local community members and fellow alumni for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day march through downtown Phoenix.

Organized this year by ASU’s student-led Alliance of Indigenous People, the event is the third of its kind in Phoenix.

The Indigenous Peoples' Day designation was first proposed in 1977, at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in Geneva. Its proponents sought to shed light on the genocide, displacement and continued discrimination indigenous communities in North America faced as a result of colonization.

More than four decades later, Phoenix is one of over 100 cities and 15 states across the U.S. to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of or alongside Columbus Day.

Medina said it’s an opportunity for Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes to be heard, and for the public to recognize a piece of history that has been left out.

“Colonization has made us invisible in the past, reclaiming this day gives us the power to challenge that and come together as a community,” she said. “I also think it’s exciting for people to see students of color from such an important institution leading this; it shows ASU is accessible to everyone.”

We caught up with other academics from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program to hear more about the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and what it means to them. 

David Martinez

David Martinez is an associate professor in The College's American Indian Studies program.

The 1977 resolution helped propel the conversation about Indigenous Peoples’ Day forward. But David Martinez, an associate professor in the American Indian Studies program and a member of Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community, traces the idea back to the country’s first rights group created for and by Native Americans over a century ago. 

“The Society of American Indians held their first meeting in 1911 and on their agenda was the establishment of an American Indian Day,” Martinez said. “The concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is in many ways the latest chapter in that effort, in that it served to give a sense of meaning to the American Indian identity and draw attention to the fact we exist.”

Though the society mostly disbanded after fighting for and winning federal citizenship rights through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Martinez said the push for recognition they started lived on in the work of indigenous activists that followed. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps their fight continue.

"For a long time, history has been told from the side of the European discoverers, which is that Columbus embarked on this hero journey and found this land Western civilization hadn’t seen before,” he said. “There is no problem recognizing somebody's ancestor, in this case a European ancestor, having done something dangerous, but the presumption of discovery erases us from the narrative.”

He said it’s also about honoring contributions American Indians have made to society.

“Whether it’s episodes of tribes assisting settlers to get through winter, like at Plymouth Rock, or the indigenous sense of environmental stewardship and appreciation for the land, our culture has influenced a lot of facets of America,” he said. “I think one important thing to remember is that this holiday is also about acknowledging that impact.”

Jayme Deschene

Jayme Deschene graduated with a master's degree from The College's American Indian Studies program in 2015.

Born and raised in the Navajo Nation city of Kayenta, Arizona, Jayme Deschene was surrounded by her Native American culture from a young age. She said Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps bring to light why tradition and land matter so deeply to indigenous communities. 

“Land is very connected to being indigenous because our land holds our stories, our stories are our heritage, and our heritage is connected to the way we live today,” she said. “As a Navajo person, I am lucky to still have some of my homeland, but many others do not — I think this day is important to help people understand that when that land was taken, a part of our identity was taken too.”

Deschene graduated with a master’s degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in 2015. She returned to campus a year later as a student success and retention coordinator with the American Indian Student Support Services, a position she still holds today.  

Now living in Tempe, she said it can be challenging to ensure her three children get the full picture when it comes to understanding the past.

“My daughter is 7, and some of the school work she brings home about settlers at Plymouth Rock makes almost no mention of Native Americans,” she said. “I try to talk to her about what is missing or incorrect, and give her additional materials about our history.” 

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one way to drive that understanding further forward.

“Sitting on campus, we are on ancestral tribal land right now, but a lot of people don’t realize that,” Deschene said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not so much about older communities as it is about educating younger generations like my daughter’s and making sure our history, language and culture continues.”

Eric DeLorme

Eric DeLorme is a graduate student in The College's American Indian Studies program.

For Eric DeLorme, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree from the American Indian Studies program, returning to school was a chance to gain more insight into cultures across North America.

“My mother is Mexican American and I am an enrolled Pueblo of Acoma tribal member in New Mexico, and a descendant of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana,” DeLorme said. “I studied Chicana/o studies in my undergraduate years, now I want to expand my knowledge of indigenous peoples all the way from Canada down through Mexico.”

DeLorme sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a chance to recognize a historic trauma and honor the sacrifices made by communities that came before.

“I see this as a day to remember that we survived genocide, my ancestors fought hard so that I can put my feet on this earth today. The movement now is regaining the identities that were lost during colonization,” he said. 

Some controversy between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day continues, but DeLorme said it’s important to keep conversations going, even when difficult.

“I think what’s happening now, with people discussing these differences, that’s a good thing, because it’s the first step in challenging the narrative,” he said. “By acknowledging another part of this country’s history, we can get closer to understanding one another.” 

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU Night at the D-backs showcases the many paths to careers in sports

October 14, 2019

As thousands of people prepared to celebrate ASU Night at a recent Diamondbacks game, 150 ASU alumni and students gathered at Chase Field ahead of the game against the Dodgers for a Career and Professional Development Services panel to discuss how Sun Devils can make a career in the sports and entertainment industry.

The event, sponsored by the W. P. Carey School of Business and the ASU Alumni Association, featured a diverse set of experiences in the field, including everything from business and legal work to nonprofit and athletic careers. Panelists included Graham Rossini, vice president of special projects and fan experience for the Diamondbacks; Nona Lee, executive vice president and chief legal officer for the Diamondbacks; Joe Bertoletti, senior associate director of sports and tourism for the city of Surprise; Willie Bloomquist, special assistant to the Diamondbacks president and CEO; Elana Kutz, the director of the sports business program at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business; and Debbie Castaldo, vice president of corporate and community impact for the Diamondbacks and the executive director of the Diamondbacks Foundation. W. P. Carey's Elana Kutz speaking at an ASU panel Veronica Aguilar, associate director of alumni for ASU Career and Professional Development Services, at the ASU Night at the Diamondbacks panel event. Download Full Image

Alumnus Aaron Myers, who graduated in 2004 after earning his degree in finance from the W. P. Carey School of Business, attended because he is a big supporter of ASU and he loves sports. 

“It’s great to hear the panelists and their journey and how they got to where they are at,” Myers said. “I was really interested to hear how people got their start in a sports career and what has made them successful so far.”

Myers is currently in banking, but he knows what it’s like to transition to new fields. He grew up mostly overseas in a military family, and he served in the U.S. Air Force as a medical lab technologist. Before shifting to finance, he wanted to pursue medicine but realized that he didn’t enjoy working in trauma. 

Myers, who also played football in high school and for Mesa Community College before his time at ASU, said it’s a family tradition to be a sports fan, and he’s always interested in hearing about career opportunities in the field. He said that the ASU event at the Diamondbacks game showcased how many avenues and journeys can lead to a career in sports.  

“It was great to see the diversity of each panelist and to see where they came from, what that success looks like,” Myers said. “It really reinforced that there’s not just one path to getting into a career in the sports-entertainment industry. There’s not one path. It’s all about passion, and that’s the common thread.”

One of the paths attendees heard about was transitioning from being an athlete to working elsewhere in the industry. Former Diamondbacks utility player Bloomquist, who also played baseball for ASU and earned his degree in management in 2001, said that since baseball had been such a big part of his life for so many years, it was hard to imagine not staying connected after he was done playing. Now the special assistant to Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall, Bloomquist said he relied on his ASU network to help him stay in the industry. Hall is also a Sun Devil, who graduated in 1991 with a degree in broadcast journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

“It’s a very, very competitive world, so, like it or not, a lot of times you have to rely on your network and who you know and how you’re able to use your strengths that might be useful in that industry in some way, shape or form,” Bloomquist said. “To go into it cold turkey is gonna be very, very competitive; it’s going to be tough to break into initially.” 

Bloomquist said he loved the interactive panel and hearing from fellow Sun Devils about the practical questions they had about the industry. He enjoys connecting with Sun Devils because of his great experience at the university and because the university attracts such great people, which makes networking easier and more enjoyable, he said.  

“It was the best four years of my life hands down. Just the experiences, not only as an athlete but also as a student there. The opportunities that the university offers both athletically and academically are just second to none,” Bloomquist said. “Once you leave there, the network that it provides is really extraordinary. On all fronts from the time you’re there to the time you leave and now being an alumni, the networking and all that is tremendous.” 

Associate Director of Alumni for ASU Career and Professional Development Services Veronica Aguilar said it was thrilling to organize and host this event at the stadium itself and to draw so many mid-career professionals to hear about ASU’s career services for life.

Her favorite part of the event was seeing so many people get excited about being in a group of Sun Devils. When she asked the attendees how many were alumni of ASU, the room went wild. 

“To see that amount of pride in a room in a setting that was for a Major League Baseball game in their space, that literally gave me chills. It was so exciting to see everyone come together and be excited,” Aguilar said. 

Aguilar said the feedback she received from alumni after the event has been amazing, and she said that she loves sharing with Sun Devils all the resources they have access to:

There’s another opportunity right around the corner. Don’t miss out on the fun and professional development! Check out the Nov. 13 event at Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup in Tempe. Hear from owner Aaron Pool, an ASU alumnus who studied business and graduated in 2009.

Need career services but you’re not sure where to start? Reach out and CPDS is happy to guide you. Call Aguilar at 480-965-6307 or email vaaguila@asu.edu.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Digital marketing manager, Educational Outreach and Student Services