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Native Nations Flag Exhibit Signals Arizona Tribes' 'Seat at the Table' with University Leaders

A new exhibit featuring the flags of all 22 Native Nations in Arizona is just the beginning of ongoing partnerships to serve Arizona's tribes and tribal students, leaders said in a ceremony to celebrate the display.

Visitors to the Arizona BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center are encouraged to look up on their next visit.

When they do, they'll be greeted with 22 hanging flags of sky blue, gold, yellow, purple, burnt orange and a range of other colors, all adorned with symbols sacred to the Native Nation that each banner represents. The flags were installed last week above the shopping area directly to the right of the store's main entrance.

The colorful new display, unveiled amid Native American Heritage Month, honors the cultures, customs and continuing contributions of Arizona's 22 Native Nations. Leaders from the University of Arizona, the Tohono O'odham Nation and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe dedicated the permanent exhibit in a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 12.

The event followed health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the university's own protocols, which required attendees to wear masks and maintain physical distance. The event was livestreamed and is archived on YouTube.

The exhibit is the culmination of a yearslong initiative to recognize the heritage and culture of the university's Native American students, faculty and staff. The project was led by Karen Francis-Begay, UArizona assistant vice provost for Native American Initiatives who served as emcee of Thursday's dedication, and later Levi Esquerra, who assumed the role of UArizona senior vice president for Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement in September. Esquerra also spoke at Thursday's event.

Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. | Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe

The time, labor and supplies to install the exhibit were donated by W.E. O'Neil Construction.

Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, said he hoped the exhibit would lead to an ongoing dialogue between the university and Native Nations of Arizona to find ways to best serve the nations and their students. He praised President Robert C. Robbins for establishing Esquerra's position.

Native American students, Norris said, face unique challenges when it comes to attending college, and helping them overcome those challenges should be the vision for university leaders.

"Let's not stop with these flags," Norris said.

"Let's start with talking with each other, and let's start with putting this into action," he added, pointing to the flags hanging above.

Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said he was thankful for what the exhibit signaled for continuing partnerships between the university and tribes.

"These institutions, like the U of A, have made us a little bit more at the table, slowly but surely," Yucupicio said.

He also urged Native American students to pursue a higher education.

"Do the best you can in these halls, these learning institutions, so someday you can go back, whether it's to your tribe, your city, your state or your whole nation, and help it survive," Yucupicio said.

Esquerra assured attendees the exhibit was "just the beginning" of ongoing partnerships between the university and Native Nations across Arizona.

"We owe it to you, we owe it to all 22 sovereign nations here to not only give them a seat at the table, but to listen, to learn and to interact," he added.

Robbins, in his own remarks near the end of the ceremony, affirmed that commitment.

"You will always have a place at the table to come and meet," said Robbins, who, in a proclamation earlier this month, designated November as Native American Heritage Month at the university.

"I look forward to continuing to work with all 22 sovereign nations here in Arizona and with all the Native American nations in the U.S.," Robbins said.

The event also featured remarks from Jonathan Rios, president of the American Indian Alumni of the University of Arizona; Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox, research professor and social scientist in the UArizona American Indian Studies Program; and Benjamin Davis, an undergraduate student and president of the Tohono O'odham Student Association.

Jesse Navarro, governmental affairs assistant in the Tohono O'odham Nation Executive Office and a UArizona alumnus, led a prayer and blessing before speakers took the stage.

To kick off Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 1, the university released a new Native American Heritage cultural logo, developed by students, employees, cultural groups and alumni. Its distinct iconography symbolizes values held by Arizona's tribes.

The university's first cultural logo, released in October, celebrated the university's Hispanic heritage, and two others – recognizing Black history and Asian Pacific heritage – will be released later in the academic year.

The University of Arizona BookStore has long been a canvas for installations that recognize the culture and heritage that make up the university community. For years, dozens of flags from all U.S. states and territories and from nations around the world have hung in the store's main showroom, honoring the homes of students.

The time, labor and supplies to install the exhibit were donated by W.E. O'Neil Construction.

Ned Norris Jr., chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation, said he hoped the exhibit would lead to an ongoing dialogue between the university and Native Nations of Arizona to find ways to best serve the nations and their students. He praised President Robert C. Robbins for establishing Esquerra's position.

Native American students, Norris said, face unique challenges when it comes to attending college, and helping them overcome those challenges should be the vision for university leaders.

"Let's not stop with these flags," Norris said.

"Let's start with talking with each other, and let's start with putting this into action," he added, pointing to the flags hanging above.

Peter Yucupicio, chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, said he was thankful for what the exhibit signaled for continuing partnerships between the university and tribes.

"These institutions, like the U of A, have made us a little bit more at the table, slowly but surely," Yucupicio said.

He also urged Native American students to pursue a higher education.

"Do the best you can in these halls, these learning institutions, so someday you can go back, whether it's to your tribe, your city, your state or your whole nation, and help it survive," Yucupicio said.

Esquerra assured attendees the exhibit was "just the beginning" of ongoing partnerships between the university and Native Nations across Arizona.

"We owe it to you, we owe it to all 22 sovereign nations here to not only give them a seat at the table, but to listen, to learn and to interact," he added.

Robbins, in his own remarks near the end of the ceremony, affirmed that commitment.

"You will always have a place at the table to come and meet," said Robbins, who, in a proclamation earlier this month, designated November as Native American Heritage Month at the university.

"I look forward to continuing to work with all 22 sovereign nations here in Arizona and with all the Native American nations in the U.S.," Robbins said.

The event also featured remarks from Jonathan Rios, president of the American Indian Alumni of the University of Arizona; Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox, research professor and social scientist in the UArizona American Indian Studies Program; and Benjamin Davis, an undergraduate student and president of the Tohono O'odham Student Association.

Jesse Navarro, governmental affairs assistant in the Tohono O'odham Nation Executive Office and a UArizona alumnus, led a prayer and blessing before speakers took the stage.

To kick off Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 1, the university released a new Native American Heritage cultural logo, developed by students, employees, cultural groups and alumni. Its distinct iconography symbolizes values held by Arizona's tribes.

The university's first cultural logo, released in October, celebrated the university's Hispanic heritage, and two others – recognizing Black history and Asian Pacific heritage – will be released later in the academic year.

The University of Arizona BookStore has long been a canvas for installations that recognize the culture and heritage that make up the university community. For years, dozens of flags from all U.S. states and territories and from nations around the world have hung in the store's main showroom, honoring the homes of students.