The Walk for Justice and Peace organized a walk on Saturday afternoon that culminated with speeches from Indigenous people at the Cortez Cultural Center.
Members of the Montezuma County Patriots also attended the event.
The speeches reflected on the upcoming Columbus Day holiday from the perspective of the Indigenous people whose existence was permanently changed and altered by the presence of white people in North America.
Speakers such as Duane Chiliyazzie, Precious Collins and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk emphasized unity, but also commented on challenges Native Americans have faced.
“The racism, the exploitation we discuss today is nothing new,” Chiliyazzie said.
He discussed how Christopher Columbus and his soldiers quashed resistance from Indigenous people and subjected them to extreme violence and brutality, including dismemberment.
“These are truths that all people need to understand – this is true history,” Chiliyazzie said.
He joined in the Walk for Justice and Peace on Main Street with his granddaughter on Saturday.
Sylvia Clanchischilli (Diné) from Teechospas, Arizona, pointed out that the U.S. has yet to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Episcopal Church has denounced the nation for its lack of action.
Collins, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe who was raised in Towaoc, said Cortez is clashing in beliefs, race, culture and religion.
“I’ve never quite seen such division like this,” Collins said.
She reflected on her experience as the only person of color in a room. She said she asks herself if that is the right place to be, if she is safe and where the exits are.
Still, Collins said, “No matter our race, color or identity, we are all connected.”
Collins’ niece, Little Miss Ute Mountain Pachun Collins, said she hopes “everyone has hope in their lives.”
Precious Collins and Lopez-Whiteskunk encouraged young people to continue to speak up for themselves and for one another, because “they are the future,” Collins said.
“It’s so important to talk to our young ones about (understanding each other),” Collins said.
She also read a land acknowledgment she wrote to remind people to be stewards of the land.
Lopez-Whiteskunk said she was disappointed by the noise several trucks and motorcycles made outside the Cultural Center on Saturday, as well as the loud talking beyond the wooden gate.
“It doesn’t matter what tribe you are, you stand and listen (when an elder is speaking),” Lopez-Whiteskunk said. “Never did I experience such disrespect until these days.”
As a former member of the Montezuma-Cortez School District board, Lopez-Whiteskunk said she served all people, families and children, not just tribal members.
“If this (division) is what we leave for the next generation, I’m scared,” she said. “So many times we can’t see beyond ourselves to something greater.”
Lopez-Whiteskunk encouraged people at the event to think about whether they should celebrate Columbus Day.
“The best way to celebrate is to not celebrate,” she said.
Lopez-Whiteskunk held up her face mask, which had a red handprint to signify missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“Many say oppression doesn’t exist, but it does,” she said.
She read aloud the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and asked elected officials to honor it.
Members of the Montezuma County Patriots attended the event after they were invited by the Walk for Justice. Six entered beyond the wooden gate at the courtyard, while several others remained outside.
“We’re not about division,” said Tiffany Ghere, a co-organizer of the Montezuma County Patriots.
The Patriots’ Freedom Ride on Saturday included a flag from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Patriots burned sage over the flag at their gathering before the ride, Ghere said.
Veterans standing outside the Walk for Justice gathering announced upon entering the gathering that “all lives matter” and that they “fought for all lives, not just Black lives.”
A member of the Miniconjou Lakota planned to at the event, but decided not to enter the Cultural Center courtyard when he saw the people surrounding the outside with American, Thin Blue Line, and Trump for President flags.
His partner, Robin Hamm, spoke on his behalf, saying, “No Lakota in their right mind would stand encircled by white supremacists.”
Hamm described instances of the “ongoing genocide” in the U.S., including a Lakota woman who died in police custody in South Dakota in 2015. Her family said she was pregnant at the time.
“This is why we say Black lives matter,” Hamm said.
Conversation instead of confrontationMontezuma County Patriot Josh Archuleta and Walk for Justice participant Jorie McCann discussed what occurred at the event afterward.
Archuleta said he didn’t understand why a speaker called the Patriots white supremacists when he said he is “not racist against anybody here.”
“Just because I fly this flag doesn’t mean I’m racist,” Archuleta said of his Thin Blue Line flag.
Archuleta and McCann said they agreed the police force and the government needs to be “cleaned up,” but Archuleta said he thinks President Donald Trump is the person to do it.
“I’m not trying to cause trouble,” Archuleta said of his presence at the event.