Boulder is actively trying to find a compromise that would allow members of the local indigenous community to have religious ceremonies that will not be interrupted or shutdown based on city code. KGNU’s Roz Brown says local Native American groups that regularly hold indigenous ceremonies spoke to city council Tuesday night.
Several people related what has transpired since a code enforcement officer contacted David Atekpatizin Young last month. Leader of Colorado’s Apache Tribe, Young received a letter saying he had violated the city’s open burning law at his home on University Hill after a neighbor reported an open fire where stones were being heated later to be transferred to a sweat lodge. Young says it wasn’t the first time Native American religious ceremonies in Boulder have raised concerns.
“There have been other ceremonies that have been disturbed including one I ran 15 years ago in south Boulder, so this has been ongoing for well over 20 years,” said Young.
Young and others met with officials from the city’s fire department this week and reported that good progress was made. He says ultimately the Native community would like to have a parcel of land on open space where they can safely hold their ceremonies undistributed.
Stevie Reyes said he has been attending the indigenous ceremonies for more than 10 years.
“They’re important because they allow me to reconnect with heritage and especially being transgender I know there is a place for me at the ceremonies.”
The Boulder city manager told council that city officers will not contact Young about open fires in the future, and that an allowance of some sort is being looked into that would exempt Native American religious ceremonies from open fire laws. Andrew Aragon said it’s been disheartening to attend ceremonies that are disrupted due to a lack of understanding about indigenous ways.
“I’m pleased to see that council is being receptive to us,” said Aragon. “Native folks are not always in the mainstream – and that council is wiling to work with us, that’s a beautiful thing. I’ve been at ceremonies that have been disrupted and it’s heartbreaking. I don’t think any other religious group in this community would have law enforcement officials walk in and strip them of their prayer.”
In 2016, Boulder City Council declared what has been Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And because of that commitment, Nikhil Mankekar, Deputy Chair of the City’s Human Relations Commission expects meetings between the two groups to continue.
“Establishing that relationship is a huge step and something really positive that has come out of the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution and people wanting the city to live up to that.”
The indigenous community says it was more than a decade ago that Boulder said it would be given a permanent location on city open space land for its ceremonies but that never happened. Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said Tuesday the issue is important to council and despite what might have happened in the past, they want to, “get it right.”