On Monday afternoon, the Nottoway Tribe’s Thanksgiving address — “We are thankful for we are now of one mind. We are thankful for the people, Mother Earth, water, all of the fish, all of the birds, all of the plants [and] all of the trees” — rang from the front steps of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.
Dr. Sheila Wilson Elliott, a tribal citizen and chair of the Virginia Nottoway Indian Circle and Square Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Nottoway Tribe, read her tribe’s Thanksgiving address as part of a commemoration for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“I wanted it to be upbeat and the fact we are hopeful that we will be recognized for the people that we are, and that we will be one,” Elliott said in an interview, discussing her selection of the piece to read aloud.
The phrase “We are now of one mind” is repeated several times during the address.
Elliott, with representatives of the Mattaponi, Patawomeck and Cheroenhaka tribes, stood with Mayor Levar Stoney on Monday to commemorate the first people to ever walk the lands of America.
Stoney signed a proclamation last year declaring the city will annually recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October. In 2019, the city decided not to acknowledge Columbus Day, which honors Christopher Columbus and falls on the same day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“The fact that we are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and not Columbus Day at this museum and in this city speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come,” Stoney said during Monday’s ceremony.
“And that is why today, on the second Monday in October, we rightfully acknowledge and celebrate the founding people of this great land, our Indigenous people, and thank them for their contributions. As most of you know, the first people to populate the land that now comprises the city of Richmond were members of multiple tribes, including the Pamunkey, the Nottoway, the Mattaponi, the Upper Mattaponi and the Nansemond Indian Nation, each with their own diverse histories and diverse cultures,” Stoney said Monday.
He noted, however, that the city has only begun celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the past three years, meaning there’s more work to be done.
A roughly 8-foot statue of Columbus, an Italian explorer who paved the way for the colonization of the Americas, used to stand near the tennis courts in Byrd Park. Last summer, as 1,000 people gathered one evening near the statue to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, some of them used ropes to pull down the monument. It was then submerged in Fountain Lake.
The statue, dedicated in December 1927, was the first statue of Columbus in the South, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
While President Joe Biden issued a proclamation last week recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Columbus Day is still a federal holiday. Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time in Virginia’s history.
Acknowledging that it isn’t always easy, Elliott keeps the hope that Virginia is moving in the right direction.
For those who may be feeling less hopeful, she has one word of advice: “Persevere.”