RICHMOND, Va. -- Standing with tribal leaders on the steps of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presented a signed proclamation on Monday, recognizing Indigenous People's Day.
"Today we recognize the past but also celebrate the impact of our indigenous brothers and sisters," Stoney said.
The holiday was officially proclaimed in Virginia by Governor Ralph Northam in 2019. Monday also marked Columbus Day, which remains a federal and state holiday.
"The fact that we are celebrating Indigenous People's Day, not Columbus Day, at this museum and in this city, speaks volumes as to how far we've come," Stoney said. "The fact that this is only our third year doing so tells us that we have a ways to go."
While the history of Virginia's tribes goes back thousands of years, many tribal leaders say the truth is only partially told in history books.
In January of 2018, the United States Congress bestowed federal recognition on seven Virginia tribes, an honor long fought for my tribal leaders, including Mattaponi Chief W. Frank Adams.
But Adams says access to healthcare and education remains a big obstacle for those in the Indigenous community. He says the availability of native land is also important to keep communities together.
"Like a reservation or tribal properties," Adams says. "Places that we can have a POW WOW and homecomings and weddings and funerals. All those things that make people come home."
While Adams says progress is being made, he hopes the younger generation will continue to invoke change in the fight for recognition and equality.
"I do see the tide turning, slowly, but I see some light at the end of the tunnel and I give a lot of credit to the younger people of the United States, the state of Virginia and certainly of the Indigenous tribes working together," Adams says.
Several tribal leaders also say they would like to see Indigenous People's Day separate from the Columbus Day holiday.