Taos Municipal Schools joined a growing grassroots effort Tuesday (Dec. 12) when the board voted during a regular meeting to adopt a resolution recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, federally recognized as Columbus Day.
The resolution that hit the desks of the district’s public schools and three charter schools was the work of two Vista Grande High School students. They are on a campaign to educate their community and change the way holidays are looked at in New Mexico.
TMS follows Vista Grande and other schools in the area with the adoption of the resolution, but the district won’t outright replace the existing Columbus Day. Instead, the district will use the day to celebrate unity of cultures within the schools.
“It’s kind of exciting now that we have a day we can all celebrate,” said district Superintendent Lillian Torrez.
Vista Grande sophomores River Trujillo and Elias Suazo began their efforts in September when the high school adopted the new holiday to replace Columbus Day. The two were encouraged by the school to act as ambassadors to other schools in the area and eventually brought their case to TMS, where they are now looking at a broader vision for their campaign. According to Suazo and Trujillo, Taos Academy and Taos Charter School have also joined in their cause to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Following efforts in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the duo are urging others to look at the history of Christopher Columbus and his treatment of Native Americans.
Both Trujillo and Suazo believe the history taught by generations of textbooks have painted Columbus in a false light. The two students are setting out to celebrate the history of indigenous people rather than the controversial explorer. Neither of the sophomores celebrate Columbus’ name. They want it removed from the holiday so as to encourage a more accurate telling of the Europeans’ arrival in the Americas. Trujillo said he can’t imagine why people would want to still celebrate the memory of a man who mistreated native peoples. He believes this effort will begin to smooth over centuries of racism and prejudice many indigenous people have experienced.
“The best we can do is educate people,” Trujillo said. “With all the problems going on in the world, there’s not any room for hate. It just doesn’t make sense.”
While the goal of the students is to completely eliminate the mention of Columbus from the Taos school calendar, they said everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. They see TMS’ decision as a step in the right direction. Suazo and Trujillo said Indigenous Peoples’ Day is for everyone to celebrate and learn a little about Native American history.
“I’m very supportive of these young men,” said Vista Grande Principal Isabelle St. Onge. “I’m proud that Vista Grande is helping them become activists because we need it in this world.”
According to the TMS resolution, Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas by a delegation of Native nations. Since then, several governing bodies around the United States have proposed and passed similar resolutions to honor indigenous people.
The next step for the two students is to present the resolution to the Taos town council, asking them to consider replacing Columbus Day. Suazo said he would also like to see the resolution passed on a state level and will be working toward that goal in the future.