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UNITY 25 Under 25 Continues his work with Indigenous Peoples Day Initiative


Former UNITY 25 Under 25 awardee, Dylan O. Baca, President of the Indigenous People’s Initiative spoke on the momentous occasion of President Biden signing a proclamation declaring Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time in American History.

The following are Dylan’s words:

Thank you, Clara, tribal leaders, Congressman O’Halleran, Chairwoman Teran, Arizona state senate and house members, and other distinguished guests. It is my distinct honor to join you this morning as we come together to recognize and celebrate a historic milestone in the fight for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. My name is Dylan Baca; I am president of the Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative, a citizen of the White Mountain Apache tribe, and through my cheii, I am Navajo.

Today, we recognize for the first time in United States history Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This week I have thought about my late great-grandmother. She was born when Native Americans were not considered equal. Still, during her lifetime, she was able to see Native Americans gain citizenship, gain the right to vote, and gain the ability to make decisions in the corridors of power and the halls of congress. Similar stories can be reflected across many indigenous families across our nation. These stories show us how fragile progress is and that we must continue to stay vigilant to protect against the darker currents of our nation’s history of violence, hatred, and despair that can, unfortunately, rise again.

By the United States choosing to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we acknowledge a history marked
by broken promises, violence, and deprivation in hopes of creating a brighter future where we can stand by one another with cooperation and mutual respect. By knowing the story of Indigenous Peoples, we understand ourselves and others better. It binds us together and reaffirms that we are all American. The Native American experience is not separate from the American story but is crucial to that story. It is the hope of my tribal community and Indigenous People across this nation that this day will help alleviate the effects of oppression. And work to create future generations who understand the importance of our shared experiences to create a stronger, more unified nation.

While the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day alone will not alleviate poverty on reservations, it
won’t eliminate domestic violence or terminate every instance of discrimination. Those things are up to us. The decisions and choices require us to speak out until our values are fully reflected in our laws and communities. Indigenous Peoples’ Day shows us an example of tangible progress that illustrates that even in the face of oppression, America has moved forward. A great nation does not shy away from the truth; it strengthens, encourages, and fortifies us. It is an act of patriotism to understand our collective history. As Americans, we must recognize that the United States is a constant work in progress, and loving this country requires us as citizens to speak up for what is right. I hope that we can put our differences aside and work together with cooperation and mutual respect for one another to make this nation one that genuinely aligns with democratic principles.

Today is a historical event. This holiday validates the ideas of this nation’s founding. This country was born of change, this country was born of revolution, and this country of “We the people.” This country is excellent and can be better, and that’s why we celebrate. Mindful that our work is not yet done. Mindful that we are going through but another checkpoint on our shared journey towards a stronger and more unified America. Native American cultures are not dead, and our civilizations have not been destroyed. Our presentence is evolving rapidly and creatively as everyone else’s.

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