Virginia House unanimously passes resolution for American Indian Memorial

Vincent Schilling, Today correspondent
3/31/09

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Virginia Indians may soon be recognized at the state’s capitol for their contributions to the Commonwealth. Virginia Delegate Chris Peace recently announced the passage of House Joint Resolution 680, which calls upon the governor to establish a commemorative commission to honor the life, achievements and legacy of Virginia Indian tribes with a commemorative memorial on Capitol Square.

The resolution is on a positive track to be signed by Gov. Tim Kaine by March 30. He has long been a friend to Virginia Indians and hopes are optimistic.

Peace authored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of delegates with constituents including Virginia tribal members. Tribal leaders on the board of the Virginia Council of Indians unanimously supported the resolution.

The resolution states, “a memorial to Virginia Indians and their ancestors will remind everyone who visits the Capitol grounds that Virginia Indians’ courage, persistence, determination and cultural values have significantly enhanced and contributed to our society for centuries.”

The resolution also acknowledges the struggles faced by Virginia’s Native people. “Despite hardships brought about by the loss of lands, languages and civil rights, American Indians in Virginia persisted and continued to contribute to the Commonwealth through agriculture, land stewardship, teaching, military and civil service, the arts, and other avenues of productive citizenship.”

“As the representative of several state recognized tribes in the 97th district, I believe that we do each citizen honor when we so recognize the achievements of these original Virginians,” Peace said.

Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi, who originally suggested the resolution to Peace, expressed his appreciation for Peace’s efforts.

“(This is) another major step in reconciling all cultures of this great Commonwealth. The past contributions of all people contributing to the success of our nation should be appropriately recognized. I am extremely grateful for the steps the Commonwealth has taken, especially for the work of Delegate Chris Peace and his leadership role in the Virginia General Assembly. This is a good day for this special place we call Virginia.”

In addition to the respect and homage paid to Virginia Indian tribes, the memorial’s placement is significant because it would stand in the state’s capitol, which houses the oldest legislative body in the United States, the Virginia General Assembly.

The memorial will share soil with a Thomas Jefferson memorial; and common ground with the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, which depicts African Americans and women in prominent historical roles. The draft of the resolution follows the model of the Moton School Commission that created the Civil Rights Memorial, which was unveiled in 2008.

The governor will serve as chair to the commission, which consists of numerous governmental officials in addition to three non-legislative citizen members as representatives of the Virginia Indians. The commission body will seek private funding for the creation and placement of the monument.

“We are asking for a signing ceremony as well to publicize the initial effects of creating this commission. In addition, we don’t think we are going to encounter any problems raising money in the economy. I think there are a lot of people and businesses that want to pitch in to make this dream a reality,” Peace said.

He said the next step will be the design of the memorial.

Other Virginia tribal leaders were glad to hear about the success of the resolution.

Chief Lynette Allston of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia was heartened by the announcement. The Nottaway tribe was recently honored with a painting now displayed in Historic Jamestowne.

Allston is also a longtime resident of Drewryville, Va., and resides on land owned by her great-great grandparents. She knows well the contributions of Native people.

“It is wonderful to see Virginia’s continued recognition of the contributions of American Indians. There is a much broader Indian community in Virginia than many people realize. We are not just limited to a few individuals. The fact that the Commonwealth is recognizing Virginia Indians is exceptional.”

Deanna Beacham from the Virginia Council on Indians said, “This is a wonderful idea. I did not expect to see it addressed this year.”

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