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Library of Virginia Presents Indigenous History Exhibit

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – The Library of Virginia is introducing a new exhibit highlighting Virginia’s Indigenous history and how the tribes remain a vital part of Virginia’s culture today.

Beginning Tuesday, Dec 5, the exhibit titled ‘Indigenous Perspectives’ will run through Aug. 17, 2024. The exhibit will explore experiences of Virginia’s tribal communities and related items from the library collections.

The exhibition showcases video interviews with Virginia tribe citizens, archival records from the Library’s collections, and tribal objects such as eel pots, regalia, and quilts that reflect their traditions and culture.

Indigenous peoples in Virginia’s history are often introduced only at the point of contact with European colonists, leading to assumptions of their extinction or lack of further involvement. The Library of Virginia hopes to change that perception through this exhibit by allowing visitors to hear their voices and experiences, which include maps, treaties, land records and other governing documents.

“We have a generation coming up starting to show interest in the background, where we came from. They want to learn the history,” said Chief Gerald Stewart of the Chickahominy, Eastern Division.

Many items in the Library’s collections document the colonization, land dispossession, and sometimes eradication of Indigenous peoples throughout history. However, Library staff learned from tribal leaders and citizens that these same records contained the history of the tribes.

“Indigenous peoples pass on their history through oral tradition, so there are no written records,” said Chief Lynette Allston of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia. “So, if we can take a European record and analyze it from a different perspective, we can make sense of our story. And we can adjust [it] to give it our perspective.”

Tribal citizens and library staff worked together to select examples of archival records from the Library’s holdings. During the collaboration, tribal citizens shared how they have reinterpreted these materials and issues of importance to them, such as the environment, what it means to be a sovereign nation, and what they hope for the future.

“We have coined a term that clearly describes what we’re doing, and we are re-matriating our Mother Earth, because that was the core of our spiritual beliefs,” said Chief Anne G. Richardson of the Rappahannock Indian Tribe. “And that’s the reason that place is so important to us.”

The work to develop the ‘Indigenous Perspectives’ exhibition began in 2022, when the Library embarked on an ambitious initiative to develop an ongoing partnership with the 11 federally and state-recognized tribes in Virginia.

The exhibit is presented by Amazon, with additional support from the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond, Virginia Humanities, the Anne Carter Robins and Walter R. Robins Jr. Foundation and individual donors through the Library of Virginia Foundation.

“As the official record keeper for Virginia, the Library is committed to collecting and sharing the stories of Virginia’s first people,” said Librarian of Virginia Sandra G. Treadway. “This exhibition reflects our ongoing effort to preserve Virginia Indian history and to foster a deeper understanding of that history by incorporating the oral traditions as well as the lived experiences of Indigenous Virginians today.”

Source: NBC12.com