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Richmond Joins Growing Number of Cities Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Representatives of local tribes attend ceremony marking Indigenous People's Day

This story was reported by Brianna Scott.

Richmond now joins a growing number of cities recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including Charlottesville, Falls Church and Alexandria in Virginia. 

Mayor Levar Stoney invited tribal leaders to city hall Thursday to officially declare October 14th “Indigenous Peoples' Day,” a date recognized by the federal government as “Columbus Day.”

Representatives from the Cheroenhaka, Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Patawomeck, and Upper Mattaponi tribes were in attendance. 

Reggie Tupponce is the Tribal Administrator of the Upper Mattaponi tribe of King William County. Tupponce said Christopher Columbus had a brutal impact on Indigenous people. 

“The tribes that he had contact within the Caribbean were decimated, they were tortured, they were enslaved. I personally don’t think that’s the history that we should be celebrating,” said Tupponce.

Tupponce said he wants people to know the true history of Native Americans.

“We have been here for tens of thousands of years and we’re still here. We still have our culture, many tribes still have their language,” Tupponce said. “This wasn’t empty land that was here for the taking. The development of the colonies and the development of the United States had a cost, a severe cost to its original inhabitants.”

Beth Roach serves as a Tribal Councilwoman for the Nottoway tribe. For her, this proclamation goes deeper than just renaming “Columbus Day.”

“We still live in a very scary time. It’s an amazing thing that Virginia tribes got federal recognition and then you look at our federal administration now that’s stripping away Native rights and other federally recognized groups,” Roach said. “So even though we have gains in some areas, we have losses in other areas.”

Roach wants to see more collaboration between those in positions of power and tribal members when it comes to decision making.

“Co-management of our lands and our water and the way that we interpret our stories would be the next best steps. There’s a Nottoway River, can we co-manage that watershed with the traditional ecological knowledge that we hold?” Roach said. “Or Virginia State Parks, they have tons of interpretive signs all over the system, can we co-write those signs so that they are a balanced interpretation--often they are one-sided.”

Mayor Stoney said recognizing the 14th of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the history and resilience of Native Americans. 

Roach and Mayor Stoney attended the same university together, James Madison. Roach said Stoney is, “taking the momentum and the strength of the voices of our generation and really doing the right thing,” by making this proclamation. 

“The Indigenous Peoples were and always will be the first people to populate what we now refer to as our nation, our commonwealth and this city,” Stoney said during the gathering.

A statement released by the City of Richmond said that Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be an “opportunity to reflect not only upon the culture and heritage of native people, but also to celebrate their influence, accomplishments and resilience in the face of extraordinary hardship.”

Several states also recognize Indigenous Peoples’ or Native America Day, including Alaska, Maine, Minnesota and South Dakota. Richmond has not marked “Columbus Day” as an employee holiday, but it remains an official federal and state of Virginia holiday.

“I don’t think that the United States can really reach a point where they reconcile with us until they reconcile with their past,” said Tupponce.