Hekiu Indigenous Artist Continuum Wins MLK Diversity Award

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Members from the Indigenous artist continuum Hekiu pose for a photo after winning the award for Best Community Group/Organization at the 26th annual Tempe Human Relations Commission MLK Diversity Awards Ceremony on January 8 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Tempe.Pictured left to right: Yolanda Hart-Stevens, Missy Mahan, Amy Davila, Thomas "Breeze" Marcus, Selina Martinez, Joshua Yazzie, Tiffany Enos, Jacob Butler, Chandra Narcia, Helema Andrews.

The local Indigenous artist continuum Hekiu won the award for Best Community Group/Organization at the 26th annual Tempe Human Relations Commission MLK Diversity Awards Ceremony on January 8 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Tempe.

The annual awards are hosted by the City of Tempe and the Human Relations Commission. They honor people and organizations that demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion and exemplify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hekiu—meaning “past” in the O’odham language—aims to create accessibility and visibility for O’odham, Piipaash, Yoeme and other local Indigenous voices. The group is a collective of artists with particular specialties who work with organizations and municipalities to achieve mutual benefits between Indigenous peoples and supporting stakeholders.

“It’s important for the group to receive this award as part of our intention to not only create diversity and add to the diversity, but to reintroduce … the cultural identity of O’odham, Piipaash and others into the City of Tempe,” said Hekiu member and artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus. “It’s motivating because it feels like we’re on the right path.”

Keynote speaker Kenja Hassan, Ph.D., whose writings on American Indian religious land claims have been presented before Congress and published in a compilation of oral histories, recalled how Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the mistreatment of Native Americans in his 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait.

In the book, King said, “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”

The awards ceremony included a performance of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by Sandra Bassett, as well as a hoop dance performance by members of Indigenous Enterprise.

Other award winners were Tempe High School math teacher Laurie Dadd and Tempe Black Employee Alliance founder Lisa Groom in the Individual Adult category, peer leader Robert Trujillo in the Individual Youth category, and Tanja B. Halloway, owner of Cut To A T barbershop, in the Business Organization category.

Up next for Hekiu is a large mural project in collaboration with the City of Tempe based on a timeline of the history of the city, as well as working with Tempe’s Transportation Department to redesign 30 to 40 bus shelters.

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