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Former Fargo cultural planner accepts Gladys Ray Award for Indigenous Peoples' Day

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Willard Yellowbird shares his excitment after receiving the Gladys Ray Award on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, during the Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebration at Agassiz School in south Fargo.David Samson / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — On Fargo’s third annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration, a former Fargo cultural planner and current spiritual leader received the Gladys Ray award. The award is given to those who have made a special impact in the indigenous community in Fargo and abroad.

Willard Yellowbird Jr. led and closed the ceremony in prayer, but he never expected the award he received from Gladys Ray’s granddaughter, Amber Mattson.

"When they said my name, I said I wonder if they got that right, but I was totally surprised. I did not expect it. This is not for me, this is for the people, all the things that I did is for the people, the children, and I'm so honored to get it," Yellowbird said.

Yellowbird served as Fargo's cultural planner for six years until retiring in December 2017.

Fargo formally changed Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2015, and Yellowbird believes it's started a change in how we remember history. He says our schools are the best route to progress.

"Get the children out, people back into it, and take that step forward in education. One of the prayers I talked about in the beginning is our teachers are our warriors now in education. Our students will be their warriors. That's how we need to approach things with that step. Start teaching in education, teaching our true history in classrooms and maybe even change within the state level," Yellowbird said.

"A lot of my relatives and family, friends and natives didn't understand the true meaning of indigenous. Now they are starting to look (at) who they are as a tribe, as a people, as a culture and tradition being the first indigenous people."

Mayor Tim Mahoney believes ceremonies like this, as well as the name change, help us remember our human connections in our local communities.

"Indigenous day is the day in which we remember the indigenous people that live in our community, live in our state and live in our nation. We are very proud of these people in what they have given us and what we can learn from them," Mahoney said.

"The reality in our world is today we sometimes forget all that we have and all of what we are. We are one village, one people working together, and we are very proud as the city of Fargo to take the five nation's flags."

The mayor accepted flags from five different tribes in North Dakota: The Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, the Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. All flags will be hung up in Fargo City Hall.