Listen: Hours before Indigenous Peoples Day, protests unfolded in downtown Flagstaff on Sunday, October 11.
Dozens of demonstrators marched through downtown Flagstaff Sunday night, protesting colonization, fascism, and police in light of Arizona’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day. Wearing masks — some also wore military fatigues — participants also expressed opposition to Columbus Day, which remains a national holiday in the United States.
Participants carried signs that decried issues like missing and murdered Indigenous women. A study conducted for the Department of Justice found that murder rates can be 10 times higher for Indigenous women in the United States.
Another sign simply read, “make white supremacists afraid again” — a riff on the Trump campaign’s well-known slogan.
Ebonie and Kevin, two Phoenix residents, watched the protests from the sidewalk. (They declined to give their last names.) Both said they were impressed to see the protest making its way through Flagstaff.
“People are protesting … injustice,” Ebonie said, “and it’s something that we should be talking about, though. Like why is it foreign in Arizona?”
Columbus Day, she added, seemed obsolete to her.
“I don’t get why it’s still accepted. This is facts, we all kind of know it’s facts, so what are we celebrating?” she asked. “The day that he gave everybody smallpox and tricked people who were being nice?”
For years, communities throughout the United States have debated the practice of commemorating historical figures often associated with slavery and white supremacy. Christopher Columbus is one of them. To the east, New Mexico is one of several states that replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in recent years. Jamescita Peshlakai, an Arizona state senator from the Navajo Nation, has spent years pushing for an Indigenous Peoples Day that would replace Columbus Day.
This September, Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order declaring October 12, 2020 Indigenous Peoples Day in Arizona. Still, the commemorative day does not replace Columbus Day — it accompanies it, according to the Arizona Republic.
As he watched protesters walk amid traffic, Michael Bishop said the protesters’ actions struck him as hypocritical.
“They don’t want fascism but they basically are fascists,” he said. “They’re young kids trying to send their message. It’s kind of common, it happened in the 60s and the 70s and every generation goes through it.”
Still, Bishop added he considered it important to celebrate all history — including Indigenous history.
Tensions mounted during the protest between demonstrators and police. Some protesters carried fireworks; according to the Flagstaff Police Department, no arrests were made.