The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month in Richmond

<p>From left to right Dani Dho-Roberts, Auntie Leroux, and Casey Butler at the Nov. 2 event to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.</p>

From left to right Dani Dho-Roberts, Auntie Leroux, and Casey Butler at the Nov. 2 event to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

The city of Richmond celebrates Native American Heritage Month with a variety of events around the city. During the month of November, community members have the opportunity to learn about the many traditions, contributions and challenges of various Indigenous communities. 

The University of Richmond started off the month with a visit from Auntie Leroux, an activist and Two-Spirit member of the Dene Nation in Canada, on Nov. 2. Leroux advocates for and educates her audiences on Indigenous and Two-Spirit rights. She was invited to tell her story and converse with students. 

Dani Dho-Roberts, the associate director for multicultural student programs, said that about 20 students pre-registered for the event, but around 35 were in attendance. He wanted to bring more attention to these groups, he said. 

"We don't really do much for our Native, Indigenous and First-Nations populations," Dho-Roberts said. "It just seemed like the perfect intersection for Auntie Leroux to join us on campus to provide that additional perspective to our community at large." 

UR is built on the ancestral lands of the Powhatan people.

"Wherever we walk, we are walking on indigenous lands," Dho-Roberts said. 

The Student Center for Equity and Inclusion does not have other events planned to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, but the city of Richmond has several opportunities that students can get involved with.

The Henrico County Public Library system has multiple events planned. "Something to Talk About," a monthly event at the Varina Library, focused on Virginia's Native People. During the event on Nov. 8 library staff screened two documentaries: "People of the River: Powhatan Indians" and “The Virginia Indians: Meet the Tribes," said Patricia Conway, the community relations coordinator for Henrico County Public Library.

A selection of books showcasing current Native American authors from across the country will also be shown. 

The Fairfield Library is hosting Gregory Smithers, a historian at Virginia Commonwealth University, to speak with visitors at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15. This event is titled "Native Ecologies: How Rivers Shaped Indigenous Communities in the American South." 

Smithers, who is currently writing a book about his research, has focused on the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples throughout his career, Conway said. She said this event would be like a preview of the information discussed in this book. He will talk about pre-colonial history, modern culture and conservation, with an emphasis on tribes in the Southeast, she said.

“This is going to be an in-depth, very detailed presentation from a leading scholar on the ways that waterways have impacted the lifeways of indigenous people," Conway said. "If you’re interested in learning about indigenous history and culture, this event is really going to teach you something, and I think it’s a unique opportunity.”

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Laura Feller, author of “Being Indigenous in Jim Crow Virginia: Powhatan People and the Color Line,” is going to the Library of Virginia's Lecture Hall to discuss her book at 6 p.m. on Nov. 10. Feller will have a public conversation with Gregg Kimball, the library's Director of Public Services and Outreach. This conversation will explore the strategies that Indigenous people took to keep their Native identities as racial hostility from politicians and institutions tried to take it away, said Feller. 

Feller, a UR '74 alumna, grew up during the throes of desegregation. She said while working for the National Park Service she went to work on a Navajo reservation in Arizona. 

“That opened my eyes to how ignorant I was about not only Native American history but the different ways that ideas about race were built and operated,” Feller said. 

After moving back to Virginia, she researched the state's many Indigenous communities and focused on the topics that are now discussed in her book. 

“I’m really looking forward to whatever people might have to say because the book is just out, and I haven’t had a lot of chances to do public events like this yet," Feller said. "I’m going to learn at least as much as anybody else there.”

Invitations were extended to representatives from all state-recognized Indigenous communities in Virginia, Kimball said. He and others at the library have been meeting with some of these representatives to narrow down which topics are pertinent and of interest, he said.

In the museum district close to campus, the 6th Annual Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is being held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from Nov. 18-20. 

Brad Brown, the festival’s executive director, said this is the largest Native American-focused film festival on the East Coast. The event is open to everyone, but ticket purchases are required. Ticket prices range from $20 to $100, with discounted and VIP tickets available.

The festival is showing 22 films, chosen out of more than 150 submissions, that explore various topics. Brown said that there are films about serious topics, like genocide and the adoption era, but there are also humorous films and ones about Indigenous life today. In past years, some of these films have been attended by over 300 people, Brown said.

“I think it’s important that Native people tell their own stories, and that’s what the festival is all about,” Brown said. “Most of the films are by Native people telling stories about their life, their tribes, and, in general, just the history of colonization and what’s happened here."

For certain films, the filmmakers will be present to introduce them and answer questions from the audience. There will also be drumming, dancing and singing for guests to enjoy Friday night at the reception. The festival will include some musical performances in the Leslie Cheek Theater.

There will also be a "Shorts Festival" at 4 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture's Robins Family Forum for those who cannot attend the full event. 

Contact lifestyle writer Solace Church at

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