Virginia Indian Festival Seminar, 'Culture and Identity Today', County Hall, Maidstone.
Today the Kent County Council hosted a seminar for members of the Council and other city officials that featured the Virginia Indian Tribal leaders on the topic of culture and identity. After opening remarks by Peter Gilroy, the Chief Executive, of Kent County Council, Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, facilitated the presentation by the Tribal leaders, and began by describing his experience growing up in Virginia and the forced separation of his family as siblings were sent out of state for education. He described in touching authentic detail the impact the education policies in Virginia had on his family. He explained that he was not reunited with his brother until they found themselves in the same state serving in the military during the Vietnam war. He went on to discuss the history of his tribe and the importance of the church community to the survival of his tribe and other tribes in the State. His own parents met at a church gathering, and the church today remains central to all the tribal communities.
Chief Adams then introduced, the other Tribal leaders, that described their Tribal communities and their lives as Native Americans in Virginia. They spoke of the diversity in their community that is not to different than others with a variety of professions and occupations. Each described experiences that emphasized the importance of their sense of community, family, and their strong desire to reclaim their identity by telling their history- the truth of the past. Many emphasized the importance of their efforts through Congress to achieve Federal Recognition of their sovereignty.
Powhatan Owens from the Chickahominy tribe addressed what he termed the threshold of their federal recognition effort. He explained that reclaiming their identity has been about standing together. He said it is for us as a community "to renew it, to reclaim it and to live it. We will tell our story again... The Indian people must have their recognition or the 7th generation will not survive."
Karen Wood, the Chairperson of the Virginia Council of Indians, spoke about the revitalization of Indian culture. She explained that it has not been easy for Indian people to overcome the stereotypes and myths about Indians as portrayed by Disney films and popular culture. The non Indian culture has expectations about Indians that are not easy to meet. "Indians don't see themselves in the history that has been written about them. Indians often get seen as relics of the past." She believes now is a good time to live, to be welcomed like the tribes have been in the UK. Now is the time they are being treated more as equals. "Indian people can make history by changing how they are seen, the way they have been represented. They can participate now more as equals and that is a good time to be alive indeed".
Many members of the Council and others in the audience asked questions about the tribal culture, and their community and political support. Several asked if Native people have been successful in getting into elected positions. Chief Adams and others explained the reality of the small population of Indians, and the "numbers" made election to office very difficult. Some asked about the impact of racism. Several of the Chiefs explained the impact of race based statutes in Virginia that undermined their voting rights and how they were perceived in the society for many years.
After the presentation and question and answer period. Ekanem Hines, an African Caribbean Historian, gave a dramatic presentation on the sociology of cultures, that have had a history of abuse and racism. She gave a very compelling account of the loss of identity, and inevitable denial that takes over a culture that is based on survival. This presentation focused the Council on the need for policies that could protect the identity of those that come from diverse backgrounds and have suffered racism.
The program continued in the afternoon with discussions by Christopher Woodley, of the Gravesham Borough Council on 'Race, Culture and Identity in Kent'. And by Patricia Green on 'the African American Experience in Virginia'.
You may watch a web cast of the Seminar on the Kent County website at: www.kent.gov.uk
Picture taking was not appropriate in this intimate setting, so below is a picture of the County Hall, and the Bus!!