Arizona Recognizes First Native American Day

This week marked an important moment in history as Arizona marked its first official Native American Day, recognized on June 2. This is a special milestone for Arizona’s Native American community and the 22 Indigenous tribes across the state.

Arizona joins California, South Dakota, Nevada and Tennessee as one of the few states that have designated a specific day to honor their Native American history and contributions. Senator Jamescita Mae Peshlakai, who is currently serving her second term in the Arizona Senate as the state’s first Native American woman senator, introduced the bill (SB 1235) for Native American Day last April.

While the bill was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey last year, the holiday could not be recognized in 2018 due to the Senate’s 90-day waiting period for a law to take effect. As such, Native communities and supporters spent the past year looking forward to commemorating the first holiday in 2019.

In addition to the new holiday, Arizona agreed to rename four of the state’s highways after Native American veterans. As a result, the Arizona Department of Transportation was asked to designate U.S. Route 89 between Flagstaff and the Utah state line the “Native American Veterans Highway.” A portion of Arizona Highway 264, which runs through the Navajo Nation, is to be named the “Navajo Code Talkers Highway.” Similarly, the portion that runs through the Hopi reservation, is to be named the “Hopi Code Talkers Highway.” Lastly, U.S. Route 160 between the New Mexico state line and the junction with Route 89 is to be called the “Native American Women Veterans Highway.”

Sen. Peshlakai is a member of the Navajo Nation and an Army veteran herself. She represents legislative district 7, which spans seven counties and is one of the largest legislative districts in the contiguous U.S. Most recently, she’s focused her efforts on improving access to quality education for Native American students in the state.

Arizona’s Native American history is rich and has made a permanent impact on the state’s identity. This month, we encourage you to spend some time visiting some of the many Native American landmarks and museums across the state and paying homage to the Indigenous peoples and history of the Grand Canyon state.

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