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Virginia Celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day For The First Time

Ceremonial dance
Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow (left) leading a group of women in a ceremonial dance at the tax tribute in 2019. (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

The second Monday in October was traditionally celebrated as Columbus Day, but this year Virginia will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time ever.

Governor Ralph Northam issued a proclamation making the change late last week. In a video message, Northam said that, for too long, the United States has failed to live up to its commitments to native peoples.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the resilience of our tribal communities and promotes reconciliation, healing, and continued friendship with Virginia’s Indian tribes,” he said. 

Virginia is home to seven federally recognized tribes, but only two, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indian Tribes, still have the reservation land outlined in the 17th Century treaties with English colonists. 

Last year, Northam announced the Chickahominy Tribe, with the assistance of state grants, would acquire a 105-acre site along the James River for land conservation and a tribal office. He also signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe. That agreement nearly doubled the size of the Mattaponi reservation. 

Northam’s proclamation on Oct. 9 brought the state in line with Richmond city and Fairfax county, which had already renamed Columbus Day. That same day, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney invited local tribal leaders to city hall to present them with the proclamation.

“Indigenous peoples were the first people to populate the land that now comprises the great city of Richmond,” Stoney said. “Too often, our histories ignore this fact, erasing centuries of indigenous progress, including major developments in language, arts and technology.”

Among those represented at Richmond City Hall were the Pamunkey, Nottoway, and Mattaponi Indian Tribes, and the Nanesemond Indian Nation.



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