Indigenous Community Forum takes place March 1 at Flag High School

Participants gather at an Indigenous Community Forum on elders Feb. 8 at Flagstaff High School. The event is hosted by Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff and the city of Flagstaff and meets to build community relationships with indigenous groups and provide support for policy changes to improve indigenous people’s lives. Photo/Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff

Participants gather at an Indigenous Community Forum on elders Feb. 8 at Flagstaff High School. The event is hosted by Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff and the city of Flagstaff and meets to build community relationships with indigenous groups and provide support for policy changes to improve indigenous people’s lives. Photo/Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff

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Participants gather in small groups to discuss specific topics and issues. Photo/Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff

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The Indigenous Community Forum first met in October 2015. Photo/Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The topic for the next Indigenous Community Forum is economic development and will take place at Flagstaff High School common area March 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The event is hosted by Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff, an intertribal group of indigenous people and supporters who first started meeting in October 2015, and the city of Flagstaff in an effort to build community and support for policy changes for the city to improve indigenous people lives. All area residents, indigenous and non-indigenous are invited to share experiences, identify concerns and seek solutions together.

The Flagstaff City Council last year agreed to participate, listen and hear what Native people had to say in the community forums to create dialogue that would move the city forward toward a meaningful declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day, something that would extend past just a single day.

According to Chris Jocks, a member of the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff, the city also agreed that after a series of forums was completed, which may happen in May of this year, that it would engage with the Indigenous Circle of Flagstaff in an action plan that would include policy changes for the city that would help improve the lives of indigenous people who live and work in Flagstaff and to help build a better, longer lasting relationship.

“That was their commitment,” Jocks said. “To me and to other people I have spoken to, they have said this is something distinctive. Other cities and towns that have sizeable indigenous populations haven’t done something quite like this.”

Jocks said that Native people who live, work and visit Flagstaff don’t always feel welcome and they don’t always feel like a valued and respected part of the city or community.

“They sometimes feel that their business is welcome, their shopping is welcome, but their ideas, their contributions, not so much,” he said. “That is the impetus behind [the forums], to create this opportunity for people to speak about their experiences and their ideas for improving things.”

One of the important aspects of the forums was that they would be community-led to encourage participation, instead of being put on by only the city of Flagstaff. The city agreed formally to attend, listen and to review all the findings at the end of the process. The city has also videotaped every minute of the forums as part of its official record.

The topic for the March 1 forum of economic development can be broken into three different kinds of experience, Jocks said, — the experience of indigenous people who own or manage a business or who want to own or manage a business in Flagstaff, indigenous people who work in businesses in Flagstaff either living in Flagstaff or who live on the reservation and travel into Flagstaff for work and Native people who patronize businesses in Flagstaff.

“In a sense it’s three different kinds of experience but we are going to try and address all of them,” Jocks said. “You say economic development and everybody thinks they know what it means” but the question is, what does it really mean for people?

The last forum’s topic was on the elderly and Jocks said the forum was well-attended with about 100 people participating. There were videos and some powerful speakers and they broke up into small discussion groups.

“Most people I talked to said it was really eye-opening and productive,” he said.

Future forums: April 5 — police and criminal justice and May 3 — environmental justice.

NAIPTA offers free bus rides to the forum after 4 p.m. (Inform the bus driver that you are attending the Indigenous Community Forum).

More information is available from Chris Jocks at (928) 607-8848 or indigenouscf@gmail.com or Gail Jackson, city of Flagstaff, at (928) 213-2078 or gjackson@flagstaffaz.gov.

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