Dr. Karenne Wood, member of the Monacan Indian Nation, celebrates Charlottesville’s first Indigenous Peoples Day at the Freedom of Speech Wall Credit: Credit: Julie Zink, Charlottesville Tomorrow

A group gathered Sunday night at the Free Speech Wall on the Downtown Mall to celebrate and discuss Charlottesville’s first Indigenous Peoples Day.

The news conference, organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, took place in front of colorful chalk drawings celebrating Virginia’s natural landscape and indigenous people.

“We are the land,” said, Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan Indian Nation. She highlighted the connection between her people and the natural landscape.

“We look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, we see them every day — to us, those are our grandmothers. And the mist that rises [from the mountains], we call that the breath of the ancestors,” Wood said.

She said the decision by Charlottesville’s City Council to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day is not just about being “politically correct.”

“It’s about trying to come to together to say, ‘There’s a new way to talk about history,’ and there are ways to increase the perspectives that [tell the story],” Wood said.

Councilor Wes Bellamy spoke briefly at the gathering.

“It is extremely important that we lend our support, all of us,” Bellamy said. “Whatever our age, whatever our race, whatever our religion, we ensure that everyone here feels welcome at all times.”

He thanked the Monacan Indian Nation for its bravery.

Wood emphasized that the history of indigenous people has not always been taught truthfully.

“I learned that native people were an obstacle to progress for America. What we’re trying to say is that we were here all this time,” she said. “What we have contributed has not been acknowledged.”

Lauren Maupin, education and program coordinator at Kluge-Ruhe, stressed the museum’s support of the Monacan Indian Nation.

“It’s important to acknowledge history and that this land is stolen,” Maupin said.

She also discussed ways to appropriately celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.

As Halloween is approaching, Maupin said dressing up as an indigenous person is not an appropriate way to celebrate indigenous culture.

Speakers at Sunday’s gathering encouraged attendees to spread the word about Indigenous Peoples Day and its importance.

Specifically, Maupin pointed out the importance of teachers and schools understanding the meaning of the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Members of the crowd agreed on the importance of teaching a younger generation about indigenous heritage.

“We need you now more than ever,” Bethany Neal, of Barboursville, told Wood.

Wood and other members of the Monacan Indian Nation took part in a University of Virginia bicentennial kickoff event Friday, where dancers and drummers performed to commemorate the Monacans’ presence and memory.

“My mantra is, ‘we’re still here,’” Wood said.