Commentary: Before Thanksgiving

Commentary: Before Thanksgiving

We all know our nation’s Thanksgiving story. But, did you know that here in Virginia there is a tradition that takes place the day before Thanksgiving that goes back three and a half centuries?

That day is a historic one as it is the day when the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes present a deer and turkey to the Virginia governor as part of a 341-year tradition as their tax tribute. The Mattaponi and Pamunkey have reservations dating back to colonial-era treaties beginning in 1658. Then the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation included providing tribute to the Crown, now replaced by the Commonwealth. The treaty originally required the tribute to be paid in beaver skins. The provision reads: “That every Indian King and Queen in the Month of March every year, with some of their Great Men, shall tender their Obedience to the Right Honourable His Majesties Governour at the place of his Residence, where ever it shall be, and then and there pay the accustomed Tribute of Twenty Beaver Skins to the Governour.”

Three years ago, I introduced a joint resolution HJ 347, passed unanimously by the General Assembly, to designate the day before Thanksgiving as Indigenous People’s Day in Virginia even though across the country you can find Indigenous People’s Day or often called, Native American Heritage Day, on Oct. 8. However, in my conversations with local Virginia tribal leaders, they decided celebrating Indigenous People’s Day the day before Thanksgiving is the best way to recognize Virginia tribes and their historic and current contributions to our Commonwealth.

Next year I hope to introduce legislation designating Indigenous People’s Day as a state holiday. Currently, there are six states and 55 cities that celebrate it as a recognized holiday. It is time that we join them to take the lead on this important date and fully recognize the contributions of Native Americans to our Commonwealth. Designating Indigenous People’s Day as a state holiday will allow us to highlight the culture and history of our Native American community.

I am hopeful that this legislation will pass into law because it is the right thing to do. Native Americans are too often marginalized through a lack of access to education, and with little recognition for the issues confronting them at both the federal and state levels. A knowledge of the history of Native Americans is essential to understanding our history. Their story is the origin story of America yet so few Americans know much about them. There is an overall misinformation and confusion about the 11 state-recognized and seven federally-recognized tribes in Virginia who deserve to have their history and culture acknowledged and appreciated with their own holiday. Below I have listed the 11 state recognized tribes in Virginia. The first seven tribes below are also federally recognized.

  • Pamunkey - Pamunkey River/King William County

  • Chickahominy - Charles City County

  • Eastern Chickahominy - New Kent County

  • Upper Mattaponi - King William County

  • Rappahannock - Indian Neck/King & Queen County

  • Monacan Indian Nation - Bear Mountain/Amherst County

  • Nansemond - Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake

  • Mattaponi - Mattaponi River/King William County

  • Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) - Courtland/Southampton County

  • Nottoway of Virginia - Capron/Southampton County

  • Patowomeck - Stafford County

By designating this day as a state holiday it will raise awareness of Native Americans in Virginia and educate the general public on historic and current struggles of these tribes. While having a state holiday will not come close to correcting years of injustices, it is a start. Despite degradation and destruction to their very way of life, loss of land and language, the tribes of Virginia persevered and their culture remains strong. Indigenous People’s Day is a day to celebrate the heritage of our Indigenous people, and for both native and non-native to celebrate the many aspects of native culture, both historic and contemporary. I hope that you will consider joining me and visiting the Capitol in Richmond in front of the Governor’s mansion on Indigenous People’s Day, the day before Thanksgiving, in the morning to witness this important Thanksgiving tradition going back centuries predating the establishment of our nation. To learn even more about Virginia’s Indigenous people: