Phoenix designates Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an official city holiday

By: - April 21, 2023 11:41 am

Photo by Danny Upshaw via Cahokia/Indigenous People’s Day Phoenix Fest

For the past seven years, the City of Phoenix has recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day every second Monday of October, but it was never an official city holiday.

But now that’s changed. With a vote of 7-1, the Phoenix City Council made it official, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been designated a city holiday.

“This is really exciting,” said Democrat Councilwoman Laura Pastor, of District 4, during a city council meeting on April 19. 


Pastor said she’s been working with Indigenous communities to declare this resolution and to introduce one involving land acknowledgment, which is the acknowledgment that the city rests on the ancestral homelands of Indigenous people. 

The Phoenix City Council on April 19 approved the resolution to declare the second Monday in October of each year as a designated city holiday known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

“This is an exciting item that has been many years in the making,” Phoenix Mayor Katie Gallego said during the council meeting. She talked about how Indigenous Peoples’ Day was originally only recognized as a day, but this vote makes it a full city holiday. 

“Phoenix is proud to recognize the roots on which our city was founded,” Gallego tweeted after the resolution passed.

During the council meeting, only one city council member questioned the resolution: Republican Councilman Jim Waring, of District 2.

Waring voiced his concern about the cost of the city holiday and questioned exactly how much it would be for the city to create an additional holiday. 

Assistant City Manager Lori Bays answered his question, saying that an additional city holiday would cost the city approximately $1.5 million from the general fund and approximately $2 million from all funds.

Waring questioned whether the city planned to take away an additional holiday because it would be revenue neutral if one holiday was swapped for another.

Bays said no other city holiday would be taken away. If so, that decision would be up to the Phoenix City Council to make in the future, because the resolution proposal was to add Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday without removing any other holiday. 

By declaring Indigenous Peoples Day a city holiday, Waring said the city was asking taxpayers not to have the city open for another day and to pay $2 million for the privilege. 

The resolution passed 7-1, and Waring was the only one to vote against it.

This means that Phoenix City Offices will be closed, and it will be a paid holiday for full-time city employees. It will be added to the 12 other recognized city holidays.

The State of Arizona does not recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an official holiday. In the past, state officials have introduced resolutions to officially recognize the day across Arizona, but those have never passed through the legislature.

When Laura Medina heard the City of Phoenix will officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a city holiday, she commended the decision by saying it was “amazing and awesome.”

“It’s great that there are these movements going on,” Medina said. 

Medina is an organizer with the non-profit Matriarch Ways, which was originally called Indigenous Peoples Arizona. The group has been hosting celebrations of Indigenous Peoples Day since 2015. 

But, Medina wondered if the city holiday will go beyond being performative. Medina said she can’t help but ask if this is really abolishing Columbus Day.

“Is that really abolishing the idea of what this individual represented,” Medina asked, not only to colonizers but to American history and the Indigenous people who have been hurt by colonization.

“I do know that there is a lot that needs to happen,” Medina said, and these types of declarations and recognitions are always with the best intentions for Indigenous communities.

She is hopeful that the City of Phoenix’s move to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day an official city holiday will spread and that people will get the day off to reflect on the land that they live on.

Medina hopes that people don’t treat the day as if it’s just another vacation day but rather use it as an opportunity to connect and acknowledge the Indigenous communities within their community and understand that they are living on stolen land. 

“Pay respect to the original people who call this place home,” Medina said, and the best way to do that is by being in the community. 

She hopes people take the time to understand the struggles that Indigenous communities are actively facing, from the militarization of the border to the complete disrespect and destruction of their sacred sites.

Matriarch Ways hosts an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration every October and other workshops or events geared toward Indigenous communities. For more information about their work, visit their website.


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues.