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ARISE celebrates first-ever Indigenous People’s Day

After long months of planning and meeting with different university officials, ARISE (Academic Revival of Indigenous Studies and Education), an organization at UTEP dedicated to educating students about different indigenous groups, was granted permission by the university to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day throughout the week of Oct. 9.

Rooted in its counter-celebration to Columbus Day, the week of events will showcase different diverse histories and cultures of Native Americans.

“We are ecstatic,” said Cheyanne Lozano, an member of ARISE and a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in history. “After a year of gathering signatures and working through the bureaucracy, we did something that really showed that students can have an effect on policy. We’ve been meaning to celebrate properly, but we did not have much time to relax because we were in the middle of planning our events.  Hopefully after this week, we will finally let it all soak in and celebrate.”

Now UTEP will join a handful of schools across Texas to recognize this day. They will also join colleges such as Brown, Cornell and Utah, in celebrating these different heritages.

Club advisor Jeffrey Shepherd, an associate professor of history, credits Student Government Association and the Faculty Senate for helping the organization push for the celebration.

“The students were really excited, obviously,” he said. “I think a few of them were a little in shock. They worked so long on this and it finally came to fruition. They knew that this was an important achievement and they were all very happy that UTEP now supports this celebration.”

Some of the groups in the El Paso region that the organization strives to educate students about include the Tiguas of Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, the Mescalero Apache near Ruidoso, N.M., and the Tortugas Pueblo group in Las Cruces, N.M.

“UTEP puts a lot of focus on its Hispanic population, which is great, but there are indigenous students that don’t get acknowledged,” said club President Laura Navarro, a sophomore history major. “By having Indigenous People’s Day, this will be a way to recognize UTEP’s indigenous population. I think having this day has allowed it to grow, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Columbus Day, which was celebrated on Oct. 9, recognizes Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas from Europe and discovering the “new land.” His army was also responsible of the mass genocide of thousands of Native Americans.

These historical accounts are a very sensitive topic, especially for Native Americans, but although Indigenous People’s Day will be celebrated, Navarro says it’s not necessarily an anti-Columbus Day.

“Our events are meant to recognize indigenous people along with their culture and diversity,” Navarro said. “We’re not saying people shouldn’t celebrate Columbus Day, we just want to celebrate the indigenous culture of many indigenous people who have survived colonization and who still continue to practice their culture today.”

The team also believes that the week of events can be significant for most people from the El Paso region because the city lies on indigenous land, according to Shepherd.

“We are on land claimed by the Apache; the Piro, Manso, and Suma peoples,” Shepherd said. “This is land claimed by the Ysleta del Sur community and others adjacent to the area such as the Tortugas community.  There are even some claims made by the Comanche and the Rarámuri (Tarahumara). A significant percentage of the Mexican/Mexican-American and Hispanic community can find close relatives—a grandparent for in stance—that are from one of these groups.”

Along with educating students about different indigenous cultures and groups, ARISE wants to build upon the bicultural community that El Paso has with the Anglo-Americans and Hispanics to include that of indigenous peoples.

“We would like to see stronger ties with the Tigua Ysleta del Sur and Mescalero Apache peoples, for instance,” Shepherd said. “By embracing Indigenous Peoples Day, I think that UTEP sends a clear message to the native communities of the borderlands that their history and cultures are important.”

The importance of cultural inclusion has been one of the keystone foundations of ARISE and they pride themselves on teaching it to the community.

On Monday, Oct. 9, someone defaced a sculpture on the tribal land that honors women with “Columbus Day” written on it at the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo.

“Cultural diversity is important to expanding one’s thinking,” Lozano said. “In El Paso, we are lucky enough to have a very diverse community, but at times we only look at one perspective.  Whether this is because of lack of representation of other communities or not, cultural studies and indigenous studies can help spread ideas when the physical voices of these people are outnumbered.”

The events kicked off at noon Monday, Oct. 9, when ARISE held a dance performance by dancers from Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo and Danza Azteca. On Wednesday, Oct. 11, ARISE will host a tipi setup at Centennial Plaza beginning at 5:30 a.m.

The week will close on Thursday when they will host a gift toss in the Union Breezeway and a performance from Grammy-nominated singer Radmilla Cody at 6 p.m. at University Suite, room 312 in Union East.

“These students have worked incredibly hard on this,” Shepherd said. “It is a complex issue that can elicit volatile and acrimonious debate, but they focused on this goal and never gave up.  I have great admiration for them.”

For more information on the events, contact [email protected] or visit their Facebook page, ARISE at UTEP.

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About the Contributors
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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ARISE celebrates first-ever Indigenous People’s Day